I recently returned from an African safari in Tanzania with my sister Mar (who took all the amazing photos in this post), where I had the good fortune of seeing many big cats, particularly lions. I always knew from watching them on TV and seeing them at the zoo that lions and other big cats act a lot like our little domesticated house panthers. But it wasn’t until seeing them up close in Africa that I learned how truly similar big and little cats are both physically and in their behavior.
Here’s a list of lion behaviors that reminded me of my own brood back at home.
1. Lions do bunny paws
I love it when my cats do bunny paws — it’s so hard for me resist flipping their little dangling toes. Don’t worry — I had no such compulsion to do the same when I saw this lioness recovering from what must have been a massive lunch. Look at the size of those paws!
2. They headbutt
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw these two female lions start to headbutt one another lovingly. It was as if I’d been transported back home and was watching my little girl, Haddie, loving on Kip.
3. They like a good vantage point
As Jackson Galaxy says, cats enjoy a peak from which to survey their domain, which is why I have cat shelves up high on my walls. Seems this goes for big cats as well!
4. They smell with their mouths
I always thought my cat Haddie walked around with her mouth open all the time because she was congested. Seems that she was probably just smelling the entire time. I only recently learned little cats do this — and it turns out big ones do as well! (Read Four Cool Facts About Your Cat’s Nose to find out more.)
5. They do that wiggle when they’re about to pounce
Normally when I see this kind of pre-bounce behavior I’m not too concerned, as it likely means one of my other cats or a toy is at the other end of the pounce. But seeing it on safari, I was worried as to what exactly this lion was looking at. Thankfully it was a false alarm and I didn’t witness anything grisly!
6. They do bunny kicks
Bunny kicking a toy is one thing, but these lion cubs bunny kicking each other looked rather serious. I was glad I was in the safety of my Jeep and not on the other end of those strong (but so cute!) paw pads.
7. They like a good snack
We were "lucky" enough to happen upon a fresh kill of a wildebeest before the vultures had gotten there. Just like our small kitty cats, big cats are obligate carnivores — and sometimes they also wear what they eat!
8. They mark their territory
The first time my cat Kip rubbed up against me, I was so pleased, assuming it was an expression of his affection. Then I realized he was also rubbing against every inanimate object in the house ÔÇô- including the cereal box. Seems my cats were just claiming me for their own (I guess that’s kind of like love, right?). Well, here you can see a big cat claiming a branch for himself.
9. They like to annoy their moms (and they look so cute doing it!)
We had stopped the jeep to look at an unusual tree when suddenly we noticed something rustling in the tall dry grass. There we saw the cutest baby cub with its Mommy. We must have watched them for an hour. Every chance the baby cub got, it was biting or jumping on Mom.
It was adorable to watch, but I did feel a little bad for Mommy, who looked like she needed a break. It reminded me of myself when I’m trying to sleep in and my cats aren’t having it!
10. They know the simplest toys are the best
For our cats, it might be a box or a balled-up piece of paper. For this lion it was a branch. While the other lions were all playing, this guy only had eyes for the branch. Go figure.
11. They like to frolic and bop each other
Just as with our cats, play for cubs can turn into smack-down time. Look at the size of that paw. Amazing they don’t injure themselves playing!
12. They can be testy and unpredictable
Anyone who has had her ankles attacked for no apparent reason, or who has patted an exposed belly only to pay the consequences, knows that kitties can be temperamental. This lioness is no different. I wonder what that lion said to make her so mad!
13. They close their eyes when lapping up water
I love watching my cats eat and drink water, closing their eyes almost in concentration. It was pretty amazing to see big cats do the same thing!
14. They yawn
Granted, it looks way more vicious when the big cats do it, but it reminded me of my little guys. You can’t really tell from this photo, but believe me when I say these lions could use some dental care.
15. They sleep a lot, and often in the cutest positions
Now, had this been my cat, I might have gone in for a belly rub, but I know better than that! I wonder what this male lion was thinking about as he digested his lunch of fresh wildebeest.
Can you think of other ways our little cats are like big cats (or vice versa)? Let us know in the comments!
Read more Catster stories on big cats: