The lion is the only member of the family in which the sexes differ markedly in terms of their adult appearance. Females are known as lionesses.


Often described as the King of Beasts, lions are unusual amongst the big cats in that they are social by nature, living in groups called prides. The lionesses hunt collectively, using a combination of guile and strength to ambush and overpower creatures that can be much larger than themselves. They are usually related to each other, but young male lions will leave the pride and lead solitary lives, until they are strong enough to lead a pride themselves. The lion population in Asia is endangered, and elsewhere it is considered vulnerable, especially because of changes in land use.


Distribution: Now restricted to Africa south of the Sahara, particularly on the eastern side of the continent. Also present in the Gir Forest, Gujarat state, India.

Weight: 150 – 250 kg (330 – 550 lb).

Length: 260 – 360 cm (102 – 141 in).

Maturity: 3 – 4 years.

Gestation Period: 100 – 119 days.

Breeding: 1 – 6.

Food: Typically animals weighing 50 – 300 kg (110 – 660 lb), especially wildebeest, buffalo and zebra.

Lifespan: 7 – 10 years; up to 30 in captivity.


This long area of hair surrounding the face and extending on to the chest is characteristic of mature male lions.


Lions have keen eyesight to spot camouflaged prey in the grass of their habitat.


The mane tends to darken with age, often ending up predominantly black in older individuals.


The fur on a lion’s body is relatively short, although the tail ends in a dark tip of longer hair.

Young lion cubs can be killed if a new male takes over a pride; this ensures that the lionesses will mate more quickly with the newcomer.


Males fight over the right to lead a pride of lionesses. Their manes serve to protect them against serious injury.