African Lion
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Conservation Status:
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A lion is a member of the “big cat” family.  Other members of the big cat family are the
cheetah, tiger, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard and jaguar.

There are two sub-species of lion : The African Lion and the Asiatic Lion.  They live in
different parts of the world and have physical differences.

The scientific name of the lion is Panthera Leo.  

In Africa each pride contains about four to six females and their cubs.  A male lion or a
group of lions will take over the pride, mate with the females and guard their territory.  They
will then stay with the pride for about two to three years.  After this time what normally
happens is a younger, stronger lion or group will fight to take over the pride.

Lionesses remain in the same pride all their lives but male lions do not.  It is generally the
females and their cubs that remain in the prides, whilst the males live together in small
groups called “coalitions”.

Many of the females in the pride give birth at about the same time. A cub may sickle milk
from and other female lionesses that have cubs, as well as its mother.

Lionesses can start to mate when they are four to six years old.  Pregnancy lasts for 110 says
and females give birth to between one and six tiny helpless little cubs.  It is not unusual for
several females to give birth at around the same time.  This means that all the lionesses
can look after the cubs at the same time, and share the nursing of the cubs – feeding the

Lion cubs feed on only milk for the first three months and then after that they start eating
meat.  At about a year old they can join a hunt, although inexperienced cubs are not
terribly successful.

Lion cubs are very playful.  While the mothers rest in the cool shade, they will play with the
tuft on her tail and play fight and tumble with each other in the grass.

Hunting generally is done in the dark by the lionesses. They often hunt in groups of two or
three, using teamwork to stalk, surround, and kill their prey.   When the lionesses hunt they
work together as a team to catch the prey.  Usually they all go for the same animal, but a
large pride may succeed in bringing down two or more in one attack.

Lionesses aren’t the most successful of hunters, because they usually score only one kill out
of several tries. After the kill the males usually eat first, lionesses next—and the cubs get
what’s left.

Lions used to live all over south east Europe, the Middle East and across India and Africa.  
But today they only live in certain areas south of the Sahara Desert in Africa and in a
protected area known as the Gir Forest in India.

Lions live mostly in open savannah grasslands, the edge of deserts, plains or woodlands.  
They tend to live in the open rather than woodland areas.

Lions are carnivores.  This means that they eat meat.  They generally hunt three to four
times a week, eating up to 35 kg in one meal.  After a big meal they may not eat again for
a few days.

Trying to bring down a large animal can be dangerous, with hooves and horns to avoid, but
the weight of one or more lions hanging on with teeth and claws will usually succeed in
bringing down the larger prey.  Lions usually kill by suffocation, clamping their mouth over
the prey’s nose and windpipe.

Many prey species, buck, warthog, buffalo, zebra etc, can run faster than lions and so lions
often hunt at night to surprise them.  When a herd of prey has been spotted by the lions,
some lions will try to circle and isolate the animal – normally the weakest of the herd –
forcing it to move towards another lion lying in the grass, waiting to ambush the prey.By the
time the prey is dead the rest of the pride members will have gathered around to eat the
meat.  Lions limit the number of grazing animals and the remains of their kills provides food
for vultures, hyenas and many insects.  

Lion Facts (Click to open new page)

Conservation Status:

The African Lion is only found in Eastern and Southern Africa.  Although no one has done a
census – that is counting the exact number of lions – it is thought that there is somewhere
between 20 000 and 100 000 African lions left in the wild.  Although this does not mean that
the African lion is endangered NOW, it is “vulnerable” to extinction.  This means that they
may become endangered if they are not protected.

The Asiatic lion however is much worse off than his African cousin.  It is already listed as
“endangered”.  This means that extinction is likely.  Only about 350 Asiatic males remain
and they all live in one sanctuary in the Gir Forest, India.  When an animal becomes extinct,
there is no way that the animal will ever be around again to roam the wilds.  Dinosaurs are
extinct.  There are no more dinosaurs left in the world.  Imagine if there were no more lions
left in the world.

Why are lions being threatened with extinction?  

Well the lion population in both Africa and Asia has decreased, and is decreasing for very
similar reasons.  Here are some of them.


The Gir Forest is being cut down for timber.  This has made the area that lions inhabit smaller
than before.  In Africa huge areas of grasslands and savannah plains are being turned into


The lions of the Gir Forest were hunted almost to extinction.  Their heads were kept as
“trophies” of a hunting trip.  In Africa, lions are still hunted under license in some countries
by “big game hunters”, even though lions are protected in other countries.  This is the
senseless killing of these beautiful animals for pleasure.   

Some lions are also shot by cattle farmers, who naturally don’t want their cattle and goats
getting killed by lions. It is very rare for a lion to become a man eater, but if this happens
the lion is shot.

How can we help?

The Gir Forest is now a protected sanctuary and also many of the areas of Africa in which
lions live are also protected.  This sadly does not stop poaching.

Lion sanctuaries can be set up for orphaned lion cubs.

Education is the best key to everything.  The people of Africa and Asia and the rest of the
world need to be educated and informed about what their actions are doing to the
animal population of the world, and how destroying forests and senseless “big game
hunting” can lead to the end – the extinction -  of a spectacular species of animal of Earth.
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