Karma Cats

  • Lions - Panthera LeoLions - Panthera Leo
  • Lions - Panthera LeoLions - Panthera Leo

Lions - Panthera Leo

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Panthera leo leo Sub-Saharan Africa   - Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Ethiopia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; India; Kenya; Malawi; Mali; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe

Panthera leo persica Gir Forest in North-west India (Asiatic lion)



African Lion – Vulnerable - (15,000 remaining in wild)
Asiatic Lion – Endangered - (350 remaining in wild)



  • Lions are a large, solid, muscular cat with huge shoulders and forearms designed to bring down large prey
  • Known for their un-patterned coats ranging from tawny yellow, silvery grey to brown.  Some carry a recessive gene limiting their pigment resulting in a “white lion” with blue or green eyes.  These white lions seem to be more apparent in the Timbavati region of Africa
  • All possess a black tuft on the end of their tail and black marks on the back of their ears
  • Young males begin to grow a mane around 3 and a half years of age.  A mane is a ruff of dense fur around their neck and shoulders continuing down the belly in some cats.  The mane can vary in colour from yellow to brown to black (seems to darken with age)
  • Cubs are born with dark rosettes to assist with camouflage but these fade with age


Head and body length: 1.4 m – 2.9 m     
Tail length: 80cm – 1.0m        
Weight: 90 – 225 kgs


  • Males are often 50% heavier than females

Life Span

Wild: Up to 18 years    
Captivity: Up to 25 years




Sexual maturity 3 – 4 years

Female Typically give birth to first litter at 3 - 4 years

102 – 115 days  (3.5 months). 

Oestrus Cycle

Lasts an average of 4 days and will continue every
2 – 3 weeks until the female conceives

Females of the same pride tend to come into oestrus at the same time

Lions mate about every 25 minutes (when females are in oestrus) with each mating lasting an average of 21 secs
Male holds the female by the back of the neck giving a short roar when completed              
Are induced ovulators


2 – 6 (average 3) cubs per litter
Most cubs are born blind with eyes opening in the first 2 weeks
Milk teeth start appearing at 3 weeks, adult teeth at around 12 months
Start eating meat at 6 – 8 weeks


Dependant on adults for food for 16 months
Milk dependant 4 – 6 months


  • If a mother loses her cubs, she will come back into oestrus and can conceive as soon as two weeks after the loss of her cubs.
  • Females will give birth in a den in long grass or rocks and nurse cubs there until 4 – 6 weeks when they then rejoin the pride
  • Mothers create a crèche and care for all the cubs for next 18 months, even allowing other cubs to suckle from them
  • 67% mortality rate for wild cubs – starvation, predation, infanticide, abandonment

Diet & Hunting

  • Hoofed stock such as zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, antelope etc.. make up the majority of their diet
  • Other prey such as ostrich, hares, baboons, birds, even fish and crocodiles are sometimes eaten – they are an opportunistic predator and will eat pretty much any animal that presents the opportunity
  • Can bring down prey up to 1000kgs (1 ton) such as young giraffe or young elephants
  • The Asiatic lion survives mainly on chital deer, sambar and nilgai
  • Hunt cooperatively with the females doing most of the hunting
  • One or two lions will ambush a predator and jump on their rump or back, throwing it off balance, then other pride members will deliver the killing bites to the back of the neck (smaller prey), throat or muzzle
  • Use the cover of tall grass, riverbeds, termite mounds, bushes to get as close to the prey as possible
  • Explosive power is used to ambush prey, lions are not endurance animals, if they don’t catch their prey within 100 -150m, they will give up
  • Can reach speeds of 48 – 59 kms per hour
  • At one to two months cubs taken to kill sites to feed
  • Do not join the hunt until they are about a year of age
  • Will drink water if available, but as they live in dry areas, when water is not available they are able to live off the fluid from their prey’s blood
  • More hunting activity in windy or stormy weather as the sound covers the noises they make when approaching prey
  • Will steal kills from hyenas, leopards and cheetahs
  • In the wild, can eat up to 40kgs of meat in one sitting but then may not eat for a few days


  • Savannah
  • Grasslands
  • Open Woodlands
  • Scrub

Social System & Territories

  • Lions are the only member of the cat family that lives in social groups called prides
  • Prides consist of 2-18 related females and their cubs and 1 – 7 males
  • Female cubs generally stay with a group but the young males leave the pride and join bachelor prides of other young males (2 - 4 cats).  These groups are nomadic and when they reach sexual maturity will attempt to take over other prides to gain access to the females
  • Males taking over prides will kill the cubs (infanticide) so the females come back into oestrus so they can breed with them
  • Territories are prey density dependant ranging from 50 km2 to up to 260 km2
  • Only male lions have manes.  These have developed to make the male appear bigger to rivals and to absorb blows and bites when fighting
  • Urine with scent gland secretions are sprayed on rocks, trees, bushes etc to mark territories
  • Flehmen – allows olfactory & chemical clues to pass over naso-vomeral organ positioned in the roof of the mouth
  • Generally nocturnal sleeping throughout the heat of the day but their environment dictates their activity e.g. when prey is active, cover available
  • Least active of the cat family sleeping an average of 19 – 20 hours per day
  • Vocalisations include roaring, puffing, growling, hissing, snarling, meowing
  • When one pride member starts to roar, the others often then join in
  • Roaring can be heard up to 8 kms away


  • Prey base depletion
  • Human conflict – hunting livestock and farmers killing them
  • Poaching
  • Trophy hunting
  • Habitat loss
  • Disease
  • Full CITES protection (Appendix I) Panthera leo persica (Asiatic Lion)
  • Full CITES protection (Appendix II) Panthera leo leo (African Lion)
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