Lion (Panthera leo)

Renowned for its majesty and nicknamed the King of Beasts, the lion possesses both beauty and strength. Lions vary in color but typically sport light yellowish-brown coats. Mature male lions are unique among the big cats due to the thick brown or black manes that encircle their necks.

Size

  • Height: 4 ft (males), females smaller)
  • Length: 5-8 ft (males), females smaller
  • Weight: 330-500 lbs (males), females smaller

Lifespan

  • About 15 years in the wild
  • About 20-25 years in captivity

Reproduction

  • Mating Season: Throughout the year
  • Gestation: Around 110 days
  • Litter Size: 3-4 cubs
  • Cub Rearing: All the adult females of the pride take part in raising the cubs. The cubs begin hunting at 11 months but remain with their mother for at least two years.

Range

Though lions used to live in most parts of Africa, they are now found only in the south Sahara desert and in parts of southern and eastern Africa. In addition, a small population of the Asiatic lion subspecies remains in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in northeastern India. Historically, in addition to Africa, lions were found from Greece through the Middle East to northern India.

Diet

Wide variety; from wildebeest, impala, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and wild hogs to sometimes rhinos and hippos. They will also feed on smaller animals such as hares, birds and reptiles. Also known to attack elephants when food is scarce.

Behavior/Habitat

The only social member of the cat (Felidae) family, lions live in large groups called “prides,” consisting of about 15 lions. Related females and their young make up the majority of the pride. A single male, or sometimes a coalition of 2-3 males, will join a pride for an indefinite period, usually about 3 years or until another group of males takes over. Lions within a pride are often affectionate and, when resting, seem to enjoy good fellowship with lots of touching, head rubbing and licking. The males are territorial and will roar and use scent markings to establish their domains. Females do almost all the hunting. They are mainly nocturnal and work in teams to stalk and ambush prey. Lions inhabit grassy plains, savannahs, open woodlands and scrub country. These landscapes allow the hunters to creep stealthily through vegetation and leap upon their unsuspecting prey.

Population/Status

The lion population in Africa has been reduced by half since the early 1950s. Today, fewer than 21,000 remain in all of Africa. The Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in India contains approximately 200 Asiatic lions.

  • Asiatic Lion (Panthera tigris tigris): 3000-4500 UCN: critically endangered CITES: Appendix I
  • African Lion (Panthera leo persica): 700-1300 IUCN: vulnerable CITES: Appendix II
  • Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo): extinct since the 1920s
  • North East Congo Lion (Panthera leo azandica)
  • South West African Lion (Panthera leo bleyenberghi)
  • South East African Lion (Panthera leo krugeri)
  • East African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
  • West African Lion (Panthera leo senegalensis)

Threats

Lions are threatened by human population growth and agricultural expansion, as well as hunting and poaching by livestock ranchers.

Interesting Facts

  • A lion’s roar can travel up to 5 miles and is the loudest of any big cat.
  • Lion cubs are born with spots
  • Lions are the only cats to live in groups, have manes (male), and have tufts on the end of their tails.
  • Female lions stay in the pride to which they were born; male lions leave when they reach maturity.
  • Lion cubs have long hair on the back of their necks that make them look like honey badgers, which are ferocious animals that predators are wary of.
  • Although extinct in the wild, there is strong evidence that Barbary lions exist in captivity. Both of our lions, Malikai and Dinari, exhibits many traits of a Barbary heritage
  • Lions are the second-largest living cat after the tiger.
  • The white lion is not a distinct subspecies, but a special morph with a genetic condition, leucism, that causes paler colouration akin to that of the white tiger; the condition is similar to melanism, which causes black panthers. They are not albinos, however, having normal pigmentation in the eyes and skin.

The world does not pay for what a person knows. But it pays for what a person does with what he knows.
~Laurence Lee

Primary Sources:
Defenders of Wildlife