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African Lion

African Lion

Panthera leo

African lions are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are an estimated 23,000-39,000 lions remaining in all of Africa, with the population continuing to decrease. Their suitable natural habitat is also continuing to decrease in area, extent, and/or quality. Many conservation programs which aim to reduce the threats that these lions face as well as improve their population numbers and habitat quality are in place currently. These include the National Geographic Big Cat Initiative, Panthera: Project Leonardo, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Lion Guardians, and more.

Breeding occurs throughout the year. Gestation is 100-119 days, and cubs born in a den isolated from the pride. Litter size is anywhere from 1-6 cubs (usually 2-4). The cubs return to the pride with the mother at about 3 months, and they will nurse from any lactating female in the pride. Male African lions will guard the cubs while the females hunt. Cubs begin to participate in kills at about 11 months and remain fully dependent on adults for meat until about 16 months but are not fully capable of surviving by themselves until around 2½ years old.

In 1993, white lions were first seen in the USA at the Philadelphia Zoo. The white lion is not an albino; it carries the recessive white gene (leucism). White lions are not reported anywhere other than regions in southern Africa around Kruger Park; the white gene pool is probably limited to this area. White lions would be at significant disadvantages in the wild, as white lion cubs would certainly attract predators like the hyena or have trouble concealing themselves when hunting on the savannah.

What are they like?

Physical Description: Male African lions can weigh anywhere from 330-570 lbs while females weigh between 270-400 lbs. Males typically have a 6-7 foot body length and tails up to 3 feet long, and they can stand up to 4 feet tall at the shoulder. Females can have a body length up to about 5 feet and a tail length of up 3 feet, and they stand approximately 3 feet tall at the shoulder. Male lions have a mane that is yellow to brown when young; it turns black with age. Their pelage (hair) is designed for thermoregulation, protection, and camouflage.

Life Span: In the wild, African lions can live up to 15 years. In zoos, they typically live 15-20 years but can live as long as 30 years.

Diet: As opportunistic feeders, lions will hunt anything that is available from small and large vertebrates to carrion. Their preferred sources of food in the wild are wildebeests, zebras, buffalo, and giraffes. At the Zoo, they eat solid meat, ground meat, liver, and knucklebones.

Social Structure: African lions are the world's most social feline species; they live in prides of as many as 40 cats.

Habitat: Lions are found in the grasslands and savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. They have a relatively broad range of habitat (excluding forests, rainforests, and arid deserts); they can habituate in any area with an availability of suitable prey, cover for stalking/hunting, water, and shade for sleeping during the hottest hours of the day.

Did you know?

  • Male lions spend over 80% of their lives sleeping—about 18 to 20 hours a day. Female lions sleep less—about 15 to 18 to hours a day. They are mostly active from dusk to dawn, doing most of their hunting during the night.
  • Adult males rarely participate in group hunts, although they are the first to feast on prey, followed by the females, then the cubs. While hunting, several lions fan out and partially encircle prey, cutting off escape routes. Markings on the back of the females’ ears are "flashed" as ears are lifted and used as a signal in coordinating group hunting.
  • At Philadelphia Zoo, all of the lions are trained to donate blood voluntarily from a tail vein. They will allow a blood draw from their tails for a meat reward! This allows them to participate in their own medical care for an annual health checkup.
  • Lions have 9 distinct vocalizations including purrs, grunts, growls, hums, meows, roars and moans.

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