The lion, the second largest member of the cat family after the tiger, lives in parts of Africa and India. In the wild, lions can live up to 10 years. The lion is known for its mane - the ring of hair that grows around its head - but only the males have manes. Adult male lions can weigh up to 500 pounds and are about three feet tall when measured to the shoulder. Males are nine to 10 feet long; females, called lionesses, are generally smaller. Lions are more social than other big cats. They usually live in groups called prides. Members of a pride include related lionesses and their cubs as well as one to three unrelated adult males who leave the pride at around two years old. Female cubs stay with the group and become part of the pride.

The members of a pride share responsibilities. Male lions are responsible for protecting the pride by patrolling the territory, especially at night. Female lions do most of the hunting, often hunting at night by pouncing on their prey at a watering hole. They hunt antelopes, buffalo, zebras, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, and sometimes smaller animals such as lizards and mice. Despite the responsibilities of adult lions, they are lazier than most other big cats, resting 16 to 20 hours a day.



The leopard is a larger member of the cat family that lives in Central Asia, the Far East, Asia Minor, and Africa. There are different species of leopards, each with a slightly different appearance, which range in size from 60 pounds to as much as 200 pounds, but all leopards have spots. Leopards are adaptable; they can survive in habitats as varied as grasslands, deserts, forests, or mountains.

Leopards like to climb trees and often lounge in the branches during the day. At night, when they are hunting, they sometimes drag their prey into a tree to protect it from other scavengers. Leopards hunt antelopes and deer, and even pigs and dogs. Their spots provide camouflage so they can take their prey by surprise. Leopards usually live alone, except when they are mating. When cubs are born, the mother moves them frequently to keep them safe from predators. Cubs stay with the mother for up to two years, then begin their solitary life.



The cheetah is the member of the cat family best known for its speed. Cheetahs live in dry, grassy areas in central, southern, and eastern Africa, as well as having a small population in Iran. The cheetah is a smaller cat than the lion, measuring about six feet long and weighing up to 120 pounds. Cheetahs have yellow fur, black spots, and distinctive black “tear stripes” on the face.

Their bodies are specifically designed for bursts of speed, featuring some advantages that are visible, such as short, muscular legs and durable paws, and some that are internal, including large lungs and a powerful heart. Although cheetahs use their speed for hunting prey, they must act quickly because they cannot maintain that high speed for long. Cheetahs do not see well at night so they hunt during the day or early evening. Their prey includes antelopes, young wildebeests, and hares. Cheetah cubs stay with their mother for up to two years, when the male cubs are chased off. These related cubs often live in groups called coalitions.

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