African Lions (Panthera leo)
Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.
Describer (Date): Linnaeus (1758)
Species: Panthera leo
Subspecies currently recognized (IUCN revisions in progress):
Pelage: Short, tawny-colored hair on body, face, and tail. Many males with mane; some without. Black tuft on tail tip. Cub have spots that fade with age.
Tail length: 60-100 cm (2-3.3 ft)
|Distribution & Status||Behavior & Ecology|
Distribution: Sub-Saharan Africa and southwest India (population in Asia). Populations often small and isolated. Occupy a mere 8% of their historic range.
U.S. Endangered Species Act:
Locomotion: Walking speed of 3-4 km/hr (1.86-2.49 mph). Bursts of speed up to 45-60 km/hr (24-37 mph) for short distances (100-200 m).
Communication: Many forms. Reinforce social bonds with social licking and head/body rubs. Use facial expressions, body postures, and behavioral displays to convey mood and intent. Variety of vocalizations: roar, grunt, growl, miaow, purr, puff, to name a few. Scent marking and smell an important channel of communication with other lions.
Prey: Large variety of prey. Medium to large-sized ungulates make up bulk of diet. Hunt and scavenge. Wildebeest, zebra, water buffalo, impala, warthog, and waterbuck frequently taken. Will also feed on smaller or unsual prey.
|Reproduction & Development||Species Highlights|
Sexual Maturity: Males: about 24 months. Females: first conception at about 43 months, but varies substantially with habitat.
The only truly social cats
Disappearing from large parts of Africa
Lions and San Diego Zoo Global
© San Diego Zoo Global 2016-2019. Taxonomy updated Oct. 2018. CITES status updated Apr. 2019.
How to cite: African and Asian Lions (Panthera leo) Fact Sheet. c2016-2018. San Diego (California, USA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY MM DD]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/lions
(note: replace with actual date accessed, e.g., 2016 Aug 01)
Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to these lion experts for generously providing content review of this fact sheet.
Dr. Laura Bertola: Taxonomy
Dr. Paul Funston: Behavior & Ecology, Reproduction & Development
Dr. Zeke Davidson: Diet & Feeding
Mr. Tony Franceschiello: Managed Care
Lion by Deidre Jackson (2010)
A bold, fascinating read that brings together historical, biographical, cultural, and conservation perspectives on lions. Eloquently written and researched. Incredible collection of art history photographs and literary references.
San Diego Zoo Global staff and volunteers
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