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When Do Lions Stop Caring for Their Cubs?

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"A son is a son 'til he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life." That old adage wasn't composed for lions, but it holds true, to some extent. Female cubs might join the pride in adulthood, but the young males are forced out on their own. Lions stop caring for their young long before any adolescents leave the pride.

The Pride

Lion prides consists of approximately 20 females, many of whom are related, along with one or two males. The female part of the pride lives together their entire adult lives, but the males come and go, replaced by younger and stronger males. Lions breed at any time of year. A female lion's pregnancy lasts approximately four months, ranging from 100 to 120 days. The females do the "lion's share" of cub care.

Cub Arrival

When a lion goes into labor, she separates herself from the pride and gives birth in a private lair, generally producing three to six cubs. After a couple of months, she brings the cubs back to the pride, raising them with the other mothers and offspring. Nursing cubs are in danger from other male lions in the pride, who might kill the cubs they did not father. However, their mothers fight for them, sometimes resulting in their own deaths. Females who lose their cubs quickly enter a new heat cycle, so they possibly breed with the male who killed her last litter.

Raising the Family

Newborn cubs are quite helpless. Their eyes don't open until they are 2 to 3 weeks old, about the same time they start walking. By the age of 4 weeks, they can run. The mother lion starts teaching her cubs to hunt when they are approximately 3 months old. They accompany her on hunting expeditions -- male lions in prides rarely hunt -- where the cubs watch her concentrate on taking down older, weak game.

On Their Own

Between the ages of 6 and 10 months, the cubs are weaned. Just because they're no longer nursing doesn't mean they leave the pride. They still depend upon their mother and pride for much of their sustenance, sharing the prey killed by other members. By the time the cubs are between the ages of 16 and 18 months old, their mother is likely pregnant with her next litter. Female adolescents either become part of the maternal pride, or form a new pride with other female adolescents they have known most of their lives. Male adolescents stick around until the age of 3, at which point they either take over a pride from an aging, weaker lion, or start their own pride with females of similar age.