African lion, facts and photos (2024)

Common Name:
African lions

Scientific Name:
Panthera leo



Group Name:

Head and body, 4.5 to 6.5 feet; tail, 26.25 to 39.5 inches

265 to 420 pounds
Size relative to a 6-ft man:

African lion, facts and photos (1)

African lion, facts and photos (2)

IUCN Red List Status:








Least Concern Extinct

Current Population Trend:

What is the African lion?

African lions have been admired throughout history for as symbols of courage and strength. These iconic animals have powerful bodies—in the cat family, they’re second in size only to tigers—and roars that can be heard from five miles away. An adult lion’s coat is yellow-gold, and juveniles have some light spots that disappear with age. Only male lions typically boast manes, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles their heads.


African lions once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe. But the species has disappeared from 94 percent of its historic range and can only be found today in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. These lions mainly stick to the grasslands, scrub, or open woodlands where they can more easily hunt their prey, but they can live in most habitats aside from tropical rainforests and deserts.

Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are a subspecies of African lion, but only one very small population survives in India's Gir Forest.

Lion prides and hunting

Lions are the only cats that live in groups, which are called prides—though there is one population of solitary lions. Prides are family units that may comprise anywhere from two to 40 lions—including up to to three or four males, a dozen or so females, and their young. All of a pride's lionesses are related, and female cubs typically stay with the group as they age. Young males eventually leave and establish their own prides by taking over a group headed by another male.

Males defend the pride's territory, marking the area with urine, roaring menacingly to warn intruders, and chasing off animals that encroach on their turf.

Female lions are the pride's primary hunters and leaders. They often work together to prey upon antelopes, zebras, wildebeest, and other large animals of the open grasslands. Many of these animals are faster than lions, so teamwork pays off. Female lions also raise their cubs communally.

After the hunt, the group effort often degenerates to squabbling over the sharing of the kill, with cubs at the bottom of the pecking order. Young lions do not help to hunt until they are about a year old. Lions will hunt alone if the opportunity presents itself, and they also steal kills from hyenas or wild dogs.

Threats to survival

Today, there are only half as many African lions than there were 25 years ago. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that fewer than 25,000 lions remain in Africa, which is why the organization classifies them as vulnerable to extinction.

African lions face a variety of threats—most of which can be attributed to humans. Fearing that lions will prey on their livestock, which can be a significant financial blow, ranchers may kill the animals both in retaliation and as a preventative measure, sometimes using pesticides as poison. Poachers target the species, too, as their bones and other body parts are valuable in the illegal wildlife trade.

The role trophy hunting plays is controversial. Mismanaged hunting in the past has caused lions to disappear from some habitats, while hunters and those involved in the industry say hunting fees generate money for lion conservation. National Geographic Explorer Craig Packer, however, has said the amount generated by hunting is so "underwhelming…[that] it’s no wonder that despite years of lion hunting being allowed in [some] countries, the lion population has plummeted."

Further fueling this conflict between lions and humans is the loss of prey across the species’ range. African lions prey on large herbivores, a population that’s being hunted for an increasingly commercial bushmeat trade. The IUCN estimates these populations have declined by as much as 52 percent in East Africa and 85 percent in West Africa. With less food available in the wild, lions may be more likely to turn to hunting domesticated animals like livestock.


Helping humans learn how to live with lions is key to ensuring their survival. Conservation organizations are working to change attitudes toward lions through compensation initiatives. Some of these models offer communities financial rewards when their local lion populations rise, while others pay farmers to replace their livestock that have been killed by lions.

Other conservationists have focused on creating protected areas for lions. In Botswana’s Selinda area, only a single lioness and her cub lived there when filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, both National Geographic Explorers, turned the land into a protected reserve and photographic tourism camp. Now about a hundred lions roam the reserve.

In Mozambique’s Zambezi Delta, where the effects of a protracted civil war caused lion numbers to plummet, the largest-ever lion translocation project brought in 24 lions from South Africa in 2018—they’re now settled in and starting to have cubs.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at for the latest submissions and news about the community.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at for the latest submissions and news about the community.

Photograph by pekka Järventaus, National Geographic Your Shot

African lion, facts and photos (2024)


What is an African lion look like? ›

Lions have strong, compact bodies and powerful forelegs, teeth and jaws for pulling down and killing prey. Their coats are yellow-gold, and adult males have shaggy manes that range in color from blond to reddish-brown to black. The length and color of a lion's mane is likely determined by age, genetics and hormones.

How big do African lions grow? ›

Size: Male lions grow to be 9 to 10 feet long and can weigh up to 500 pounds. Females grow to be seven to 8 feet long and weigh between 270 and 350 pounds.

What do lions do for 20 hours a day? ›

They spend up to 21 hours each day resting and sleeping. They have few sweat glands, so they wisely tend to conserve their energy by resting during the day and become more active at night when it is cooler.

What do African lions eat? ›

In the wild: As carnivores, African lions are specialized communal predators of medium- to large-sized ungulates. Typical prey includes antelopes, gazelle, warthogs, zebra, wildebeest and sometimes Cape buffalo, giraffe and young elephants.

How far can a lion pee? ›

They can urinate up to 20 feet. Male lions can spray up to 20 feet, so if you notice either lion backing up to the fence during your visit at the zoo, move to the side, not farther back!

Do African lions swim? ›

4. Lions can swim... ...but they don't really like doing so. Their physiology does not lend itself well to swimming, and lions will only swim if they need to cross rivers or streams during a hunt with their pride.

Are African lions smart? ›

African lions are really good at solving puzzles, and will quickly learn how to access puzzle boxes to access a tasty treat. A lion can learn how to solve a problem, just by watching another lion do it. Social facilitation like this is rarely seen in the animal kingdom.

How high can African lions jump? ›

feet vertically. Despite their weight, they have. powerful and effective leg muscles that allow them to.

How long do African lions sleep? ›

Lions Can Sleep 20 Hours Per Day. This Is How And Why. African Wildlife Report.

How many African lions are left? ›

There are currently only about 23,000 lions left in the wild.

Will African lions go extinct? ›

African lions are still found across a large area of the continent but about 70 percent of the current population exists in only ten major strongholds and its historical range is estimated to have shrunk by nearly 80 percent. Studies predict that unless we act now, African lions could be extinct in the wild by 2050.

What are 7 interesting facts about lions? ›

Let's take a look at 7 of the most interesting facts you didn't know about lions.
  • They're very social. ...
  • They're more hungry than thirsty. ...
  • Raising the young ones makes for a family affair. ...
  • There's purpose behind the noise. ...
  • Lionesses are the breadwinners. ...
  • They've got some lazy bones. ...
  • They're vulnerable.
Dec 6, 2023

What are 4 sentences about lions? ›

10 Lines on Lion in English
  • The lion belongs to a family of cats.
  • It is a large and strong wild animal.
  • It is one of the strongest animals in the forest.
  • The lion is known as “The King of the Jungle”.
  • It is famous for its oar and hunting ability.
  • The lion's body is covered with smooth, small ochre yellow hair.

How far can a lion jump? ›

A lion can run for short distances at 50 mph and leap as far as 36 feet. 4. Even though the lion is sometimes referred to as the “king of the jungle,” it actually only lives in grasslands and plains.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Virgilio Hermann JD

Last Updated:

Views: 6631

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Virgilio Hermann JD

Birthday: 1997-12-21

Address: 6946 Schoen Cove, Sipesshire, MO 55944

Phone: +3763365785260

Job: Accounting Engineer

Hobby: Web surfing, Rafting, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Ghost hunting, Swimming, Amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Virgilio Hermann JD, I am a fine, gifted, beautiful, encouraging, kind, talented, zealous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.