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Other Common Names: “Simba” in Swahili
Order: Carnivora
Genus & Species: Panthera leo
Family: Felidae


Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


African lions live in most of sub-Saharan Africa, just south of the Sahara Desert down to South Africa.  The Asiatic subspecies (Panthera leo persicua) exists only in the Gir forest of northwest India.


Savanna, forested, shrubby, mountainous, and semi-desert habitats. The lion has a broad habitat tolerance, absent only from tropical rainforests and the interior of the Sahara desert. Natural lion habitat is now found only in protected reserves and national parks.


Nocturnal and crepuscular. Lions may spend up to 20 hours a day resting or sleeping. This conserves energy for the short bursts of activity that are needed for hunting food and patrolling territory.


Lions are the second largest of all cat species and the largest African carnivore. Males usually grow from 5 to 8 feet in length and weigh from 330 to 550 pounds. Females are slightly smaller growing to a length of 4.5 to 5.5 feet with a weight of 265 to 395 pounds.


Female lions typically live longer than males. In Africa, females normally live 15-16 years; few males survive more than 10 years. Female Asiatic lions live from 17 to 21 years. Male Asiatic lions generally live for 16 years. In captivity, lions live approximately 13-30 years.


Carnivorous. Lions usually hunt in cooperative groups, but the actual killing is done by an individual lion. Female lions do 85-90 % of the hunting. Prey animals include zebra, antelope, elephants, rhinos, hippos, wildebeests, Cape buffalo, and giraffes. Lions that are not able to capture large prey will eat birds, rodents, fish, ostrich eggs, amphibians, and reptiles. Scavenged or stolen prey from leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, or wild dogs provides more than half of a lion’s diet. After a successful hunt, adult males get to eat first, females second, and cubs last. Adult males eat about 15 lbs / day, females 11 lbs/day. At the zoo, lions receive a commercial carnivore meat diet (has vitamins & supplements added), bovine bone shanks with meat, or chunk bovine meat with supplements added.


Lions are large cats with short, tawny coats, white underparts, and long tails with a black tuft at the end. Male lions are the only cats with manes. Manes can be blond to black in color. Asiatic lions have shorter manes than African lions, and some male lions in East Africa have no manes. Cubs have brown spots on a grayish coat.


Offspring: Usually one to three; sometimes as many as six

Incubation: About three and a half months.

Parental care: Female primarily responsible for raising cubs. Females nurse their young but will also nurse the young of female relatives in the pride if litters are born close together. Cubs are weaned at seven to ten months. Males do not directly provide care for the young in a pride, but they are important in protecting cubs from rival males.

Ecology, Adaptations, Etc:

Lions are the only cats that live in groups.  These groups, called prides, are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young.  Both male and female lions roar, a sound which can be heard as far as 5 miles away.  Lions are highly social and will often engage in touching, head rubbing, licking, and purring.

Lions are excellent hunters. They have great binocular vision to judge distances. In bright light, the pupils constrict to round points so the lion can hunt during the day without being blinded by the sun. At night, their hunting ability is enhanced because the pupils of their eyes let in more light by dilating to three times the size of a human’s pupils. Keen hearing and sense of smell enable lions to detect hidden prey with ease.

Although lions drink regularly when water is available, they are capable of obtaining their moisture requirements from prey and even plants (such as the tsama melon in the Kalahari desert).

The Swahili word for lion, Simba, also means “king,” “strong,” and “aggressive.

Conservation Issues:

The Asiatic lion is critically endangered, and although the African lion is not currently endangered, it is considered vulnerable to extinction in the wild.  This situation is mainly due to persecution by humans, over-hunting or over-harvesting, and habitat destruction.  There is little space for lions to live in Africa outside of parks and reserves.

Lions once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe.  Asiatic lions at one time were found from Greece through the Middle East to northern India, but today only a very small population remains in the Gir Forest in India.

Lions once existed throughout the entire African continent, but they are now confined to the sub-Saharan region. It is estimated that there are between 6,000 and 10,000 lions in Africa today.  However, according to the Association of Zoo and Aquariums, African populations are becoming increasingly fragmented and only those in preserves and national parks are likely to survive. There are still enough lions to provide genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding, but lion movement between prides is becoming more limited. Some hunting is still allowed on reserves, and there are so many lions for so little space that rangers often put the females on birth control to reduce the number of cubs born. Ranchers sometimes poison lions that prey on livestock

Lions have long been killed in rituals of bravery, as hunting trophies, and for their medicinal and magical powers. Habitat loss and conflicts with humans are the lion’s greatest threat. Little is currently known about where lions go outside of national parks, what they do and what types of threats they face.

With a growing human population surrounding parks, there are an increasing number of encounters with humans.  Lions can be serious problem animals when living alongside humans, as is increasingly the case. Lion predation on livestock is the main form of conflict. The economic impact of stock raiding can be significant. Lions also kill people.  On the other hand, lions can generate significant cash revenue for national park management and local communities.  This provides a strong incentive for wildlife conservation.  Most states in East and Southern Africa have a system which supports wildlife tourism.