Species Facts: Lions

Oh, this cat doesn’t need an introduction!

Let’s just set out a few basic facts, focusing on some things about Leo that you might not have heard yet.

For instance, did you know that the King of the Beasts is not actually the biggest cat out there?

Who’s this?

The lion is slightly smaller than a tiger, which must be enormous since lions are 7 to over 11 feet long, including the tail, and they weigh up to 600 pounds. (Cat Specialist Group; Haas and others)

Lionesses are just as tall as males, or taller, but they weigh a little less. (AZA)

We tend to see a lion pride as the family unit, and that’s true for lionesses. They are usually related to each other and use a nursery system to raise the cubs. (Cat Specialist Group)

But just like many other cats, each male’s range usually includes more than one female range – in this case, more than one pride. (Cat Specialist Group)

And it’s generally a group of males, not just one. There is tremendous competition for prides. Males usually have one breeding season -about 24 to 36 months – before they are driven off by other males.

This is a harsh fact of life for that cute little cub up above. He has a lot of work to do before he can be “just like daddy.”

While roughly two-thirds of female cubs stay with the pride as mature adults, the males leave it when they are three to four years old, or earlier if there is a takeover. (AZA)

They’re not full adults yet, so they wander for a while, often forming coalitions, until ready to make their move. (Cat Specialist Group)

Around age five or six, testosterone levels are higher, their manes have filled in and darkened some, and it’s time for them to start looking (and fighting) for a pride of their own. (AZA; Cat Specialist Group)

What about the roar?

It’s a structured call that keeps those wandering subadult males away and tells adult males that this territory is occupied. (AZA; Cat Specialist Group; Kitchener and others)

Roaring also is reassuring and it is a good way to stay in touch over distance – prides usually break into small groups to hunt, and their territory can cover more than 1900 square miles. (Cat Specialist Group; Haas and others)

Lions generally roar when they are most active – at dawn, dusk, and around midnight. (AZA)

The Cool Factor:

Seriously, though – they’re lazy, too, resting 19-21 hours a day.

Where can I find lions?

Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Ethiopia; India; Kenya; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.(Bauer and others)

Lions may or may not be extinct in the Ivory Coast; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Mali; Rwanda; and Togo. (Bauer and others)

Why are they on the IUCN Red List?

Lion conservation is complicated and deserves a post of its own. Generally, the number of lions in the world has dropped a little over forty percent in 21 years – three lion generations. (Bauer and others)

The small lion population in India is stable, but it’s in a precarious situation. A single disaster – disease, fire, something else – could wipe it out. That’s why conservationists hope to establish another wild Asiatic lion group elsewhere in the region.

Lions in southern Africa are actually increasing a bit, but lion numbers in eastern Africa are down 52% over that period of time, and in western Africa – where there is most concern about extinction soon – it’s an 85% drop. (Cat Specialist Group)

For more details, read the IUCN sources below.

Featured image: eteritlux at Pixabay. Public domain.


AZA Lion Species Survival Plan. 2012. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Silver Spring, Maryland, p. 143.

Bauer, H.; Packer, C.; Funston, P. F.; Henschel, P.; and Nowell, K. 2016. Panthera leo (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15951A115130419.

Breitenmoser, U.; Mallon, D. P.; Ahmad Khan, J.; and Driscoll, C. 2008. Panthera leo ssp. persica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008:e.T15952A5327221.

Cat Specialist Group. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=108 Last accessed September 8, 2017.

Haas, S. K.; Hayssen, V.; and Krausman, P. R. 2005. Panthera leo. Mammalian Species. 762:1-11.

Henschel, P.; Bauer, H.; Sogbohoussou, E.; and Nowell, K. 2015. Panthera leo (West Africa population). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T68933833A54067639.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.