Portrait of a male lion sitting in the grass

Lion

Lions are the only truly social cats, with related females living together in prides overseen by male coalitions that compete for possession in fierce and often fatal battles. These magnificent beasts are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and there is also a small isolated population of Asiatic lions to be found in the Gir Forest of western India.

Lions are predatory carnivores and it's the females that perform most of the hunting at night; the majority of the prey being antelope, zebra and wildebeest. They breed year-round and it’s estimated that lions copulate around 3,000 times for every cub that is born and survives for over a year.

Did you know?
Lions are the only cats with a mane.

Scientific name: Panthera leo

Rank: Species

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Distribution

Map showing the distribution of the Lion taxa

Species range provided by WWF's Wildfinder.

The Lion can be found in a number of locations including: Africa, Asia, Indian subcontinent. Find out more about these places and what else lives there.

Habitats

The following habitats are found across the Lion distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.

Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web

Conservation Status

Vulnerable

  1. EX - Extinct
  2. EW
  3. CR - Threatened
  4. EN - Threatened
  5. VU - Threatened
  6. NT
  7. LC - Least concern

Population trend: Decreasing

Year assessed: 2008

Classified by: IUCN 3.1

The lion up close

The African lion may seem a familiar animal, but research is continually throwing up surprises about its behaviour. The complex relationships between individuals and battles between the sexes are fascinating.

Diet

There's a lot of competition for prey on the African savannah. Lions are one of the largest predators, so usually kill the larger, hooved mammals, although they also eat birds, rodents and any other small prey they can catch.

Females mostly hunt mid-sized animals such as gazelles, wildebeest and zebra, while larger males specialise in hunting slow-moving large animals such as buffalo and giraffes. Lions usually hunt at night, although in the dry season they often wait at waterholes during the day for thirsty prey to risk coming for a drink.

Habitat

Lions were once widespread across Europe, the Middle East and North America as well as Africa and Asia. The African lion population has declined dramatically and is now mainly restricted to the National Parks of Africa. Lions are open country specialists and share the savannah with a number of other predators in a very competitive environment.

Behaviour

Many cat species show some degree of sociality, but lions are the most social. Females stay with their mothers, forming a group of related animals that co-operate to bring up and feed the latest litters of cubs.

The females are joined by a small group of males unrelated to them, but often brothers, who father the cubs and protect the territory against incoming males. However, it is the females that do most of the hunting and protect their territory against other females. The males' presence is often short-lived, as there are always prideless males spoiling for a fight in order to win the right to females. When incoming males are successful in taking over a pride, the consequences for the previous males' cubs are usually fatal.

Interesting feature

Lionesses live in prides - groups of related females that defend their territory against other females. The results if an experiment monitoring the reaction of females on hearing a tape recording of the roars of neighbouring females, suggested they had the ability to count.

If the tape was played to a single lioness, she would usually turn tail, but if a tape of a single lioness roaring was played to a pair of lionesses, they would approach the tape recorder about half the time, and if played to three lionesses together then they would almost always approach. The lionesses also seemed to calculate the odds if the tape was of two lionesses roaring: a single or pair of lionesses would run away, but a group of four would approach half the time and a group of five behaved like a trio did to a single individual. This suggested that lions are able to assess their own numbers and compare their group size to those of another group they can only hear.

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