Lion

Lions Photo
The social lifestyle of lions is behaviorally distinct from the largely solitary habits of other great cat species.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The most social of all the big cats, lions live in groups of up to 15 members called "prides". A number of related lionesses (mothers, sisters, cousins) form a pride with their cubs and a few unrelated males that have successfully fought for access. The females are the primary hunters; the adult males defend the pride’s territory from other males. Of the roughly 30,000 lions in Africa, only a small number live outside of designated national parks or hunting areas. Asiatic lions were once found throughout Asia, and as far West as Greece, but they are now on the verge of extinction, with only about 300 living in the dry teak Gir Forest in northwestern India.

Lions are carnivores that thrive in habitats that are rich in prey, including wildebeest and other antelopes, giraffe, buffalo, wild hogs, and zebra. They also eat carrion stolen from hyenas, cheetahs, and wild dogs. Lions require wide expanses to roam and huge hunting territories to support their hearty appetites. These cats breed year-round, and lionesses give birth to litters of three or four cubs about every two years. Cubs weigh around 2.5 pounds, and it takes them about two years to learn how to survive on their own.

Fast Facts

Scientific NamePanthera leo
  • The Swahili word for lion, “simba,” also means king, strong, and aggressive.
  • Lions spend about 20 hours a day sleeping.
  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  • Lions can measure between 4.5 and 8 feet long and weigh from 265 to 550 pounds.

Challenges

Human population growth poses a serious threat to this endangered species. Lions face an uncertain future as more and more of their habitat outside national parks is taken for farmland and livestock production, and populations of wild prey like gazelles and zebras dwindle. The number of lions in Africa has gone down dramatically in recent years and continues to shrink. In the wild, lions are targets for hunters and disgruntled herdsmen, who spear or poison these large cats in retaliation for killing their livestock. Civil unrest also destroys nature preserves and other conservation efforts, as well as diverting resources and public interest.

WCS Responds

WCS collaborates with grassroots projects designed to restore tolerance for lions among local communities and assist herders in protecting cattle and sheep. By using GPS collars to track the range and habits of individual lions, WCS scientists can advise herders on areas to avoid, and can help them build lion-proof pens for their livestock. We are also partnering with groups who are training local leaders to be conservation champions through the Lion Guardians program.

From the Newsroom

Fencing in Africa’s LionsMarch 14, 2013

The future looks bleak for Africa’s lions. According to a new report, a fence may be the only thing that stands between them and extinction.

Big Cats in CrisisDecember 11, 2012

WCS recently celebrated a groundbreaking achievement: collaring snow leopards for the first time in Afghanistan. USA Today reports on this effort--documented by National Geographic--and the larger challenges facing big cats around the world.  



Apex Predators: A Scary LossJuly 20, 2011

In a recent study, WCS Conservationist Joel Berger concludes that the loss of large predators in the wild may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.

Road to Bisect the SerengetiAugust 25, 2010

The government of Tanzania plans to build a highway through Serengeti National Park, potentially disrupting one of the world’s biggest migrations of large mammals and jeopardizing a popular tourism destination. WCS and partners urge the country's officials to consider alternate routes.

Counting Lions in the Night August 11, 2010

A WCS carnivore researcher based in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park searches for lions at prime-time for big cats: in the pitch dark.

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