The second largest of all the big cats and the most social with related females living together in prides and the males competing for ownership of these prides. The average size of a pride comprises four to six adults but they hunt in smaller sub-groups.
Lions are found in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa however they have disappeared from around 80% of their former range. Lions formerly ranged throughout northern Africa, southwest Asia and into Europe and India. They became extinct from northern Africa and most of Asia within the last 150 years, and from Europe almost 2,000 years ago.
The female usually gives birth to one to four cubs every two or three years. All the adult females within the pride share the responsibility of raising the offspring. Unusually there is no dominant female and all females within the pride are able to reproduce.
In Africa their main prey are zebra, antelopes and wildebeest but in India it is the chital deer. However, domestic livestock are also often preyed upon causing much conflict.
The lion can survive in all but the most extreme environments and has even been found on Mount Kilimanjaro. They do seem to be absent from tropical rainforests and the middle of the Sahara desert though.
The main threats to lions are indiscriminate killing (primarily as a result of retaliatory or pre-emptive killing to protect life and livestock) and prey base depletion. A study in 2004 estimated that lions in Kenya cost ranchers $290 a year in livestock losses. Habitat loss has led to a number of populations becoming small and isolated.
Lions are also a target for trophy hunters and there are concerns that unsustainable hunting may impact already dwindling populations, although the practice does protect large tracts of habitat.
Disease has also been a problem in the past and trade in lion parts is thought to be an emerging threat.
- Reduce lion-human conflict. Work is being carried out to reduce the number of livestock lost to lions, from use of traditional thorny bomas to keep animals safe at night to training herders to correctly identify what predator has killed an animal. In addition, projects are being developed to give local people real benefits from lion presence.
- Increase the wild prey base across the lions’ range.
- Conserve and increase lion habitat.
Amy Dickman, Tanzania
African wild dog, lion, cheetah
Worldwide continuation grant
Bernard Kissui, Tanzania
Lions & African wild dogs
Small worldwide grant
Emma Stone, Malawi
African wild dog, African leopard, lion
Small worldwide grant
For further free education resources visit the PTES education pages.