Wildlife Species of the Week

Lion (Panthera leo)

Lion (Panthera leo) is a large, powerfully built cat (family Felidae) second in size only to the tiger. The proverbial “king of beasts,” the lion has been one of the best-known wild animals since earliest times. Lions are most active at night and live in various habitats but prefer grassland, savanna, dense scrub, and open woodland. Historically, they ranged across much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but now they are found mainly in parts of Africa south of the Sahara.

Lions are unique among cats in that they live in a group or pride. The pride members typically spend the day in several scattered groups that may unite to hunt or share a meal. Sharing this characteristic tiger, Lions proclaim their territory by roaring and by scent marking.

Lions prey on many animals ranging in size from rodents and baboons to Cape (or African) buffalo and hippopotamuses, but they predominantly hunt medium- to large-sized hoofed animals such as wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes. Lions take elephants and giraffes, but only if the individual is young or incredibly sick. They readily eat any meat they can find, including carrion and fresh kills that they scavenge or forcefully steal from hyenas, cheetahs, or wild dogs.

Lions are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In West Africa, the species is now classified as Critically Endangered. In the wild, lions seldom live more than 8 to 10 years while spending up to 25 years or more In captivity.