Safari Patrol.
About us & contact
Search Safari Patrol:
Advanced search  Help
Lion in savanna grass.
  More about lions
Scientific name:
Panthera leo
Swahili name:
Weight: 120–180 kg/260–400 lb (female), 150–250 kg/330–550 lb (male).
Body length: 160–190 cm/60–75 in (female), 170–250 cm/65–100 in (male).
Tail length: 60–100 cm/25–40 in.
Shoulder height: 100–130 cm/40–50 in.
15 (wild) to 25 (captive) years.
The maximum speed when hunting is approximately 60 km/h or 37 mph.
Lions may live in most types of nature, except for at extreme altitudes, in vast forests and in the driest deserts. Their home ranges vary from 20 to 400 km2/8 to 150 sq mi, depending on the pride size and availability of prey. In the middle of the home range is a territory which the pride defends, while other parts of the range may overlap the home ranges of other prides.
Today, lions are mainly found in parks only.
Lions may mate at any time of the year (it is common for females within a pride to come into oestrus simultaneously). A male and a female withdraw from the rest of the pride for a few days or a week, and may mate up to 50 times a day. The gestation that follows is approximately 100 days, after which 2–6 cubs are born. 80 % of the cubs die before reaching two years of age. Cubs may suckle not only their mothers, but also other females. They start eating meat after 3 months, and are weaned after 6. The lions reach sexual maturity at 3–4 years age, when (if not sooner) young males are made to leave the pride.
  More web sites
By African Wildlife Foundation.
By Big Cats Online.
Panthera leo
IUCN red list of threatened species.
Safari glossary
Opens in a new window.
Wildlife & nature:
You probably knew what a lion looks like when you were five years, and have seen it on television a number of times since, so describing its looks is hardly necessary. In short, however, it is a very big and sturdy yellowish-brown cat with short fur and lighter underside, which is faintly spotted (the spots are best seen on cubs). A mature male has a hairy mane around its head and neck. At distance, or in poor light, a female lion may be confused with a big leopard, but at closer range, the lion is unmistakeable. It's the largest cat in Africa (and the second largest in the world, second to the tiger of Asia) as well as the largest African predator on land.

The pride
Unlike other wild cats (of which leopard, cheetah, serval, caracal, African wild cat and African golden cat can be found in East Africa), it isn't solitary but lives in family groups, called prides. A typical pride consists of two males, some five females and cubs, but constellations vary a lot, for example depending on the availability of prey within the pride's territory and on competition from neighbouring prides.

Pride of lions in southern Serengeti. One of the adult females is wearing a radio transmitter collar, which is followed by a lion research project.

The members of a pride are not always seen together, but may form smaller groups, which move independently within the home range and occasionally join with the other pride members.

Prides have a female core
The females form the core of each pride. They are generally related; they are usually sisters. Unlike males, who are forced to leave the pride when reaching maturity, females stay for life in the pride that they were born in. The young females are forced to leave only if the pride grows to large for the amount of prey available.

The adult males rarely stay in a pride for longer time than three to four years. Not that they choose to leave, but stronger and possibly younger challenges eventually show up to oust them, or even kill them. The newcomers thus take over the role as pride males. When doing so, it's not uncommon for them to kill any cubs within the pride, after which the females soon come into oestrus, whereby the new males get a chance to mate and spread their own genes.

Female and male lion.

Lions hunting
Lions mostly hunt at night and in the mornings and evenings, when they can utilize their good night vision to gain an advantage over their prey. They do hunt during daytime, too, if conditions are favourable, for example if the terrain allows them to sneak close to the prey or if a good hunting opportunity arises by chance.

Hunting starts with careful stalking, to get as close to the prey as possible. When close enough, the lion charges and tries to catch the fleeing prey, which if caught is killed by biting it's throat to suffocate it. A lion on its own may hunt prey sizing from warthogs to zebras, i.e. prey weighing 40–300 kg/90–650 lb.

Lions often hunt together with other pride members, and may together face larger prey, for example buffalos (up to 850 kg/1,900 lb) and giraffes (up to 1,800 kg/4,000 kg). The buffalo is a popular prey, requiring the cooperation of a couple of lions, often including at least one male. When prey are smaller, the male is often not taking part in the hunt, but is quick to come to eat first of all after the females have done a kill.

Male lion front paws.

Lions are large predators and powerful killers, and should be considered dangerous to us.

They normally don't hunt humans, though, and have no inherent thirst for human blood. Lions kill for food, and prefer to do so without unnecessary effort or hazard. Because of this, prides often specialize in hunting the species of prey that are available in its home range, and which the pride has experience from hunting. To most lions, humans are an unknown kind of prey that, from the lion's point of view, might be difficult or dangerous to hunt. In some areas, humans have also been aggressive to lions (for example the Maasai, who don't fear lions), making them less prone to contacts with humans.

Compared to a lion, an unarmed human is slow, weak and harmless, and it happens that lions, usually old or sick ones, find out about this. Being unable to hunt their normal prey, they have no choice but trying something new, and discover that a human is an easy prey. After such an experience, it's not unlikely that the lion will hunt for humans again.

But man-eaters rarely live very long. Trackers, hunters and rangers soon start looking for it, as they pose a threat to the local population or tourists. The newly acquired knowledge, that humans are easy prey, dies with the lion.

Lion enemies
The lion has few enemies. Some of the largest herbivores, for example elephants, may show aggression towards lions, which may attack their calves (and very large prides have been seen hunting adult elephants). Hippos and rhinos may need to protect their calves, too.

The hyaena is the lion's worst enemy among the predators. A single hyaena can't face a lion, but hyaenas in a group of four or five may chase a single lion away from for example a carcass.

Given the opportunity, a lion doesn't hesitate to kill the cubs of other predators, such as cheetahs and hyaenas. This is not done to eat them, but to get rid of a future competitor for food.

Lion cub on a rock.

Lions on safaris
Today, lions are mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa. There are also some small local population in Asia. Formerly, lions were more widespread, and were even found in Europe.

Most safaris in Kenya or Tanzania go to parks where chances of seeing lions are good. The two best parks for lions are Serengeti (Tanzania) and Masai Mara (Kenya), which are parts of most safari itineraries. Other good parks are Ngorongoro (Tanzania) and Samburu (Kenya). It's not unusual to see lions in Tarangire (Tanzania), Tsavo (Kenya) and Lake Nakuru (Kenya).

The lion is one of the five mammal species included in the Big Five, and is an animal most safari-goers want to see. We have not been on, or even heard of, any decently well-arranged safari in Kenya or Tanzania where lions have not been observed.

© Copyright 1998–2010 Safari Patrol AB
Page updated 18 February 2009