Lee Richardson Zoo

African Lion

Order Carnivora - felines, canines, bears, raccoons, mustelids, seals, etc.

Family Felidae—Cats

Scientific Name:  Panthera leo


Description African lions are second only to the Siberian tiger in terms of size.  Males weigh between 330-550 lbs, while females range between 260-400 lbs.  Coloration varies from light buff to silvery gray, yellowish red, and dark brown.  Males have a large mane that tends to darken with age and ranges in color from yellow to black. 


Home Range:  Sub-Saharan Africa (a small population
of Asiatic lions, a distinct subspecies, remains in the Gir
forest of India).


Habitat Type:  Grassy plains, savannah, open woodlands, and scrub country.


Reproduction:  Females in a pride come into estrus at the same time, and rear their young communally (young nurse from any lactating female).  There is no distinct breeding season.  Most females reproduce every 18 months – 2 years, though if a generation of cubs is killed, the females of the pride go into estrus almost immediately.  Gestation lasts 100-119 days, and litters contain 1-6 (usually 3) cubs.  The cubs’ eyes may be open at birth or they may open up to two weeks later.  Cubs are weaned in 6-7 months and participate in kills at 11 months, but are dependent upon the pride for at least 16 months, and probably for 2 ½ years. 


Diet in the Wild:  Mainly antelope, zebras, pigs, giraffes, etc.


Diet in the Zoo: Processed carnivore diet (Nebraska Brand), occasional bones.


General Information:  Lions are the only truly sociable cats.  Family groups, or prides, mainly consist of related females and their young offspring.  Daughters often remain with the pride, but males are driven out at maturity (about 3 years of age). These young males often stay together and form “coalitions.”  Though 2-3 adult males may live with a pride at any given time, they must constantly defend themselves from other males looking to take over a pride.  It is believed that the purpose of the mane is to protect the throat and neck from other male lions during these conflicts, and to make the lion appear larger.  Males taking over a pride often kill existing cubs, thereby ensuring that the females go into estrus and reproduce, with offspring of the new male’s soon to follow.  Lions use stealth to surprise prey, and generally give up the chase after a short distance.  Females do the majority of the hunting.  Working as a team, the females of a pride herd the prey towards other lions waiting in the grass.  Even though working as a team is more effective than hunting alone, as many as 5 out of 6 attempts to catch prey fail.  Lions may establish temporary territories, but they often follow their prey as it migrates. 


Conservation Status:  Listed as Vulnerable on IUCN Red List and CITES appendix ll.  (The Asiatic lion is Critically Endangered; CITES app. l), Lions have lost much of their habitat in Africa, and now exist mainly in wildlife preserves.  Highly publicized, but extremely rare, examples of man-eating lions earlier in this century caused intense hunting of lions in both Africa and India.  Remaining populations are isolated and are in danger of becoming inbred.  Some populations of lions have been decimated by the spread of canine distemper from domestic dogs.
Predators:  Humans



Kingdom of Might:  The World’s Big Cats.  Tom Brakefield. 1993. Voyageur Press. Stillwater, Minnesota. Pp. 51-68.


Walkers Mammals of the World Volume I. Sixth Edition. Ronald M. Nowak. 1999. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland.  Pp. 832-834.

AZA Lion Studbook.