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Cats: Felidae

Lion (panthera Leo:): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Lions have a short orange-brown coat tinged with gold. Males have manes, used for gender recognition at distances and protection during fights. A dark clump of fur covers the tail tip. Enormous shoulders and muscular legs are used to tackle large prey. Powerful jaws grasp prey and cut through tough skin. Lions measure 62 to 100 inches (160 to 250 centimeters), and another 24 to 40 inches (60 to 100 centimeters) for the tail. They weigh 270 to 570 pounds (120 to 260 kilograms).

Geographic range: Lions occur in countries south of the Saharan Desert, including Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. The Asiatic lion lives in western India.

Habitat: Lions prefer a mixture of thick bush, scrub, and grass that afford cover for stalking and ambushing prey. They also live in open woodlands and deserts.

Female lions may give birth to one to six cubs at a time. Mothers help to nurse and raise each other's cubs. (Joe McDonald/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Lions prey on buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest. They also eat rodents, lizards, birds, and grass. An adult male eats as much as 110 pounds (50 kilograms) per feeding, but may fast (go without food) for several days.

Behavior and reproduction: Lions live in groups called prides, consisting of two to eighteen related females, their cubs, and one to seven unrelated males. Every two or three years, adult male groups called coalitions try to take over prides to mate with the females. If the newcomers win, they attempt to kill the resident cubs in order to produce their own. Mothers band together to defend their young.

Mothers who lose their young become receptive to mating, pairing off with several partners, and giving birth to one to six cubs. Mothers share nursing and cub rearing. Between ages two to four, young males are driven from the pride by dominant males or the new coalition. Females stay with the pride for life, doing most of the hunting at night. Males advertise territorial boundaries through urine markings and group roars.

Lions and people: Many African cultures believe the lion's body parts have magical and healing powers. Lions may be killed as threats to humans and livestock.

Conservation status: The lion is listed as Vulnerable and the Asiatic lion as Critically Endangered due to habitat and prey base (the animals lions hunt for food) loss, as well as killings by humans. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsCats: Felidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Cats And People, Lion (panthera Leo:): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS