Lion - Panthera Leo

IUCN Red List status - Vulnerable

The lion is one of the larger big cat species and had once a wide distribution across parts of southern Asia and across sub-Sarahan Africa. A century ago there were still around 200,000 lions, while the latest estimate is that there are only around 20,000 African lions and around 300 Asiatic lions left in the wild. Lions have become extinct in several of their previous home range countries.

According to the current taxonomy classification there are only the 2 above-mentioned subspecies
(one in fragmented populations across Africa & one in the Gir Forest area in India). Based on new studies and also in recognition of the poor conservation status of some regional lion population this classification is however under review by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group at the moment. A new classification may see the African lions being split into two different subspecies (the West, Central and North African lion plus the South and East African lion). This new classification would address also the differences in the national Red List statuses as the lion is for example classified as Least Concerned in South Africa, while it is Critically Endangered in the regions of West Africa.

The IUCN has maintained their Red List classification as Vulnerable in spite of the drastically declining lion population in the majority of its range
(overall decline of the population by 60% over the last 21 years). The reason for this is mainly that the lion populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have increased by about 12%.

The main threats for the lions are
  • Human/wildlife conflict,
  • Habitat loss,
  • Prey depletion (mainly through poaching and the bushmeat trade).
Over the last few years a new threat has emerged in form of the trade in bones and body parts for traditional medicine
(both in Africa and in Asia). Furthermore, the uncontrolled Trophy Hunting contributes also to the decline of the lion populations in Africa.

Lions have like all predator species an important role in the natural system. They remove sick and weak animals of other wildlife, in particular ungulate species like buffaloes, antelopes and zebras. Through this their populations are controlled and they will not cause a negative impact on vegetation.

The prey species are however declining in unprotected areas, which leads to the lions going for livestock as a food source. This leads lions being killed by farmers and herders in retaliation, often through poisoning and snares
(human/wildlife conflict).

The lion is the only big cat species, which lives in groups, and these groups are called prides. A pride consist typically of several related females, one or two male lions and their offsprings. The females are doing all the hunting, while the male(s) are protecting the pride from intruders. When the females have successfully hunted an animal, they may have a first bite, but will give way to the male lion(s) when they come over. The young lions and cubs are last to get a share of the food.

Male lions are easy to distiguish based on their mane. They are however not born with it, but will grow it at an age between 12 months and 3 years. They mane will start to grow around the neck and slowly expands over the head with a line of hair developing in the middle of the skull. This will reach the forehead approximately at the age of 18 months.

Young African male lion

The 2 currently recognised different subspecies are the same in view of living in prides, their general behaviour and appearance; as well as in view of the amount they sleep per day (about 21 hours per day).

Asiatic Lioness---------------------------------African Lioness

More information about the African and the Asiatic lion can be accessed by clicking on the highlight species names above
(still work in progress).

The information about lions was sourced from the IUCN, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Panthera web pages.