The lions of Africa: Fun facts about the sleepiest big cat

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Big Cat Week on Nat Geo is about to get fearsome with the episode "Swamp Lions." The mighty lion is one of the most impressive and striking of the big cats. With its incredibly loud roar, enormous teeth, and gorgeous mane (on the males), it is arguably the most well-known big cat of all. But that doesn't mean you know everything. Here are some fierce facts about the majestic lion.

Lions are disappearing at an alarming rate

About 2,000 years ago, over a million lions roamed across all of Africa, from Greece through the Middle East, and all the way to northern India. By the 1940s, that number had dropped to about 450,000. Now there are as few as 20,000 lions in Africa, with a very small population in India's Gir Forest.

Lions are the only cats that live in family groups, including males

Lions live in groups called prides -- which include between one and three males, about a dozen females, and the pride's cubs. All the females in a pride are related, and the female cubs usually stay with the pride as they mature. When the males age, they leave the pride and spend several years on their own, until they are strong enough to take control of their own pride. Some males are never able to take control of their own prides and are relegated to following migrating herds. This type of nomadic life is much more difficult and leaves little time to rest or reproduce.

Lions sleep away 90 percent of their existence

Lions are the laziest of all cats, spending 16 to 20 hours a day just sleeping or doing nothing. They spend the rest of their time hunting, attracting the opposite sex, and defending their territory. They have to keep one eye open during mating season, however, when the males become extremely aggressive. The younger and less dominant males sometimes use this period to leave the pride altogether and find another pride.

Female lions do the hunting

While the testosterone-filled males are off defending their territory, picking fights with other males, and marking their grounds, the females are busy doing most of the hunting and preparing all the meals for the pride!

Male lions are the only "fancy cats"

Male lions are the only cats that have the distinctive tufted tails and manes. The thick brown or black mane that encircles the neck of a mature male lion not only gives them their "stylish" and regal appearance, but may also help protect them when they fight.

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