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02 Feb, 2023
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Lion Love

Lion Love!!!- Article by Gareth Jones


It was early on a cool morning when we found a mating pair of lions near No16 and the Leopard Cliffs. The male was in his prime and is known to many people as Cheru, however, the female appeared to be a bit older and after some checking, and consulting each other, it was concluded that the lioness was Lady Leonie who had not been seen for some time.

We sat quietly watching the “honeymoon couple” for almost 2 hours. Lions have some very different ways of ensuring that there is a future. While we were there, they coupled on about 10 occasions, the actual mating act is actually very quick and usually results in a bit of snarling from the lioness that is mostly due to the series of reversed barbed spikes on the lion’s penis (thought by scientists to increase ovulation). The lion also licked her head and dominated her by biting her neck gently! A mating lion couple can continue for about 5 days with intervals of about 15 minutes & can and have as many as 250 couplings. The reason for this is to increase the possibility of pregnancy. If successful it takes above 110 days before cubs are born (normally 2 or 3), let’s hope that there will be cubs soon, time will tell! The lion population in the park has had serious challenges in recent years, mostly due to domestic stock issues that result in them being killed outside the park, so it is always exciting to see newborn cubs.

Lions show little interest in the odour of other species, but olfactory “air smelling” communication between lions is well developed. Like all cats, they possess a special olfactory organ on the roof of the mouth called a Jacobson’s organ. The lion grimaces (called Flehman) after smelling something, which passes the scent over this organ. Reproductive status is assessed using this method. Anal sniffing is common when greeting, and males often smell females in heat to assess status. Pride males will spend a lot of time urine spraying territory boundaries, and all lions scuff the ground with their rear claws from the age of two years old.

Male lions constantly try to become dominant over territory, especially if they have lionesses under their domain. If a young lion conquers another older lion and becomes the “King” of a particular territory, then woe betides any young lions, especially cubs that have the genes of the conquered lion. The new “King” will seek to find any of these cubs and kill them. To us humans this act seems like a very cruel and tragic act, but lions also do this to ensure their genes are passed on, and this also ensures a stronger gene pool for the future lions. When the cubs are killed then the lionesses come into season and are ready to mate again.

Our human thinking of love is very different from the way lions behave when they are courting, so we should not always use human logic and emotion to try and understand how lions think and behave. Most people watching such lion activity are well behaved, as they witness special creative moments of prime couples attempting to ensure the future of the Nairobi National Park Lions. Let’s hope their efforts are successful and that many cubs will thrive and survive. Long live the Nairobi lions!

The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00

lion love Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Dairy – A passionate writer & photographer


  • Steve Daly

    February 13, 2020

    Having the opportunity to witness the variety of animal behaviour is a privilege indeed. We have also been lucky enough to witness Lions in the act of mating, and it certainly does look rough, rather than tender! In 2016 we were lucky to come across a Lioness with a pair of new-born cubs in the Masai Mara as we were on our way to the airstrip for our flight back to Nairobi. Our driver reckoned they must have been born during the night as they still had traces of blood on their fur; were still blind; and were suckling from Mum. That sighting was a privilege and all because Air Kenya amalgamated two flights, cancelling the earlier one we were booked onto. Our driver’s reaction, “hakuna matata…. ….we have a game drive!” A sentiment that we whole-heartedly agreed with.

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