Panthera leo (African)
Panthera leo persica (Asian)
Body length: males—5.6 to 8.3 feet (1.7 to 2.5 meters); females—4.6 to 5.7 feet (1.4 to 1.7 meters);
Tail length: 27 to 41 inches (70 to 105 centimeters)
Shoulder height: males—4 feet (1.2 meters); females— 3.5 feet (one meter)
Weight: males—330 to 550 pounds (150 to 250 kilograms); females—265 to 400 pounds (120 to 180 kilograms)
Life span: 15 years in the wild, up to 30 in zoos
Gestation: almost 4 months
Number of young at birth: 1 to 6, usually 3 to 4 in a litter
Size at birth: 3 pounds (1.5 kilograms)
Age of maturity: 3 to 4 years
Conservation status: Asian lion is vulnerable; African lion is not currently endangered, but there is no space for it to live in Africa outside of parks and reserves.
Some male lions do not have manes, seen
most often in East Africa.
Lions can often survive in extreme drought conditions, eating tsama melons for moisture in the Kalahari Desert.
Lions are the only members of the cat family to have males and females that look distinctly different.
Only lions have a tuft of dark hairs on the tips of their tails, which helps them communicate with other lions in their pride.
- Clouded Leopard
- Fishing Cat
- Lynx & Bobcat
- Mountain Lion
- Small Cat
- Snow Leopard
Listen to a lion's roar!
Listen to a lion's snarl!
Lions have captured our imaginations for centuries. Stars of movies and characters in books, lions are the top of the African food chain. The Swahili word for lion, simba, also means "king," "strong," and "aggressive." The word lion has similar meaning in our vocabulary. If you call someone lionhearted, youre describing a courageous and brave person. If you lionize someone, you treat that person with great interest or importance.
African Lions Scientists know more about African lions Panthera leo than any other cat. It is estimated that there are between 6,000 and 10,000 lions in Africa.
Asian Lions Asian lions Panthera leo persica used to be found from the Middle East across to India. Now they are only found in the Gir Forest in India. There are only about 200 to 260 of these endangered lions left in the wild. They live in a reserve that used to be royal hunting grounds, in an area of dry teak forest. There are also about 200 Asian lions living in zoos.
Lions lying around
A lions life is filled with sleeping, napping, and resting. Over the course of 24 hours, lions have short bursts of intense activity, followed by long bouts of lying around that total up to 21 hours! Lions are good climbers and often rest in trees, perhaps to catch a cool breeze or to get away from flies. Researchers have often noticed lions lying around in crazy poses, on their backs with their feet in the air or legs spread wide open!
Living with (a) pride
Lions are the only cats who live in large, social groups, called prides. A pride is made up of 3 to 30 lions. The pride consists of lionesses (mothers, sisters, and cousins), and their cubs, along with a few unrelated adult males. The pride has a close bond and is not likely to accept a stranger. The unrelated males stay a few months or a few years, but the older lionesses stay together for life. In dry areas with less food, prides are smaller, with two lionesses in charge. In habitats with more food and water, prides can have four to six adult lionesses.
All for one and one for all
Living in a pride makes life easier. Hunting as a group means there is a better chance the lions will have food when they need it, and it is less likely that they will get injured while hunting. Lion researchers have noticed that some activities are contagious in prides. One lion will yawn, or groom itself, or roar, setting off a wave of yawning, grooming, or roaring! Lions and lionesses play different roles in the life of the pride.
You go, girls!
Lions live in a matriarchal society. The lionesses work together to hunt and rear the cubs. This allows them all to get the most from their energy, keeping them healthier and safer. Being smaller and lighter than males, lionesses are more agile and faster. During hunting, smaller females chase the prey towards the center. The larger and heavier lionesses ambush or capture the prey. Lionesses are versatile and can switch hunting jobs depending on which females are hunting that day and what kind of prey it is.
A kings life
While it may look like the lionesses do all the work in the pride, the males play an important role. While they do eat more than the lionesses and bring in far less food (they hunt less than 10 percent of the time), males patrol, mark, and guard the prides territory. Males also guard the cubs while the lionesses are hunting, and they make sure the cubs get enough food.
When new males try to join a pride, they have to fight the males already there. The lions thick mane protects his neck against raking claws during fights with other males for membership in the pride. The new males are either driven off, or succeed in pushing out the existing males.
Lion school begins early
From the time they are born, cubs have a lot to learn! They can nurse from any adult lioness in the pride, not just their owns moms. Cubs born in a pride are twice as likely to survive as cubs born to a lioness on her own. How long a lion cub stays with Mom depends on the sex of the cub. Mothers generally raise males until they are just about two. Once they hit that stage in life, the mother usually runs them out of the group, and they are on their own; sometimes the subadult males form bachelor groups and run together until they are big enough to start challenging big males in an attempt to take over a pride. If the cubs are female, Mom cares for her offspring until about two years of age, but females usually stay with the pride they were born into, and Mother and daughter may live together for life.
Dinner at dusk and dawn
A lion chasing down prey can run the length of a football field in six seconds. Their eyes have a horizontal streak of nerve cells, which improves their vision following prey across a plain. Lions have been spotted taking down animals as large as buffalo and giraffes! They will even drag this heavy prey into thickets of brush to keep other animals from getting it.
Lions hunt antelope and hoofed animals, baby elephants or rhinos, rodents, reptiles, insects, and even crocodiles. They will also scavenge or steal prey from leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, or wild dogs, even eating prey that is spoiled. Lions digest their food quickly, which allows them to return soon for a second helping after gorging themselves. At the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the lions get carnivore diet, as well as an occasional large bone, thawed rabbit, or sheep carcass.
Are lions in trouble?
Yes and no. Natural habitat for lions is now only found in protected reserves, where lions are doing well. Although there are still enough lions to provide genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding, 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.