It’s peculiar, for the amount of times that lions mate, it is quite a rare sight to actually catch them in the act. However lions do not mate at any specific time of the year and are not always that easy to find.  Singita Kruger National Park is lion country and during my guiding career I have been fortunate to have some fantastic opportunities to see these guys in action. A pair of mating lions is an interesting affair, which involves a fair deal of aggression, acrobatics, persistence and astonishing vocals all thrown into one performance.

On this particular day we found one of the young males from the Southern pride showing keen interest in a young female. It’s often quite easy to observe sexual behavior in lions and if one is patient, the reward is well worth the wait. Mating is initiated by both male and female, but seemingly more often by the female who is full of energy during her oestrus.  We sat with the animals for some time before the female gestured to the male and presented herself to him.

Most lionesses will have reproduced by the time they are four years of age.  This was still a young female and possibly her first intermit experience with the opposite sex. As with other cats, the male lion’s penis has fine barbs, which point backwards. Upon withdrawal, the barbs rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which may cause ovulation but obvious pain. After he mounted her we watched in awe as she clearly voiced her discomfort, lashing out at the male with snarls of displeasure.

This aggressive response from the female is all part of the act and a mating bout, which could last several days. They will copulate twenty to forty times a day each lasting about 20 seconds at a time. They may even go without eating during their time together.

We located the couple over the next few days, with the male keeping a close eye on his four brothers, making sure they knew this young female belonged to him and that it was going to be his genes that were passed on successfully. If mating failed, the lioness will come into oestrus again in 16 days and possibly another lion will be successful, however I feel in this case this male managed to seal the deal as he gave quite a performance.

We hope you’ll follow James Suter as he blogs from Singita’s private game reserves across Africa – tracking the natural rhythms of the wild.

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