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Encyclopedia > Panthera leo
For other uses, see Lion (disambiguation).

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. leo
Binomial name
Panthera leo
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Lion (Panthera leo) is a mammal of the family Felidae. The male lion, easily recognized by his mane, may weigh up to 250 kg (550 lb). Females are much smaller, weighing up to 180 kg (400 lb). In the wild lions live for around 10–14 years, whilst in captivity they can live over 20. Lions are carnivores who live in family groups, called prides, consisting of related females, their cubs of both sexes, and an unrelated male who mates with the adult females. The females do the hunting for the pride while the males are largely occupied with maintaining the borders of their territory. Males are expelled from the pride when they reach maturity. When or if a male takes over a pride and ousts the previous lead male, the conqueror may kill any cubs left in the pride that are not his.



Despite being popularly known as the "king of the jungle", the lion is an animal of the open plains, and can be found throughout Africa. It is nevertheless a threatened species with significant populations being limited to national parks in Tanzania and South Africa.

The last remnant of the Asiatic lion (subspecies Panthera leo persica), which in historical times ranged from Greece to India through Persia, lives in the Gir Forest of northwestern India. About 300 lions live in a 1412 kmē (about 550 square miles) sanctuary in the state of Gujarat.

Lions had become extinct in Greece, their last European outpost, by 100 AD, but they survived in considerable numbers in the Middle East and North Africa until the early 20th century. The lions that used to live in North Africa, called Barbary lions, tended to be larger than the sub-Saharan ones, and the males had more extensive manes. They are thought to have been a subspecies of lion, although this has not been confirmed.

Lions are recurring symbols in the coat of arms of royalty and chivalry. Lions appear in the art of China, even though lions have never lived in China. No animal has been given more attention in art and literature. C.A.W. Guggisberg, in his book Simba, says the lion is referred to 130 times in the Bible. The lion can be found in stone age cave paintings.

Although they are not often heard of because they are rare, white lions do exist, in Timbavati, South Africa. There is a recessive gene in white lions that gives them their unusual color (also causing white tigers, many white tigers with this gene are bred for zoos and animal shows). White Lions have a disadvantage when it comes to hunting since their white color gives away their hiding place when hunting.

Lions in the wild

Lions eat mammals that are smaller than their size. They are predators with a stealthy approach in order to capture food. Accordingly, prey animals will normally keep calm if they spot a lion at a safe distance as the lion will probably not have the stamina for a sustained chase. Some of their natural enemies are male lions who are seeking territory.

Baby or young lions are called cubs.

Attacks on humans

Two lions having sexual intercourse in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

While a hungry lion will probably attack a human that passes near, some (usually male) lions seem to seek out human prey. Some of the more publicized cases include the Tsavo Man-Eaters and the Mfuwe Man-Eater. In both cases the hunters who slew the lions wrote books about their exploits. In folklore, man-eating lions are sometimes considered demons.

The Mfuwe and Tsavo incidents did bear some similarities. The lions in both the incidents were all larger than normal, lacked manes and seemed to suffer from tooth decay. Some have speculated that they might belong to an unclassified species of lion, or they were sick and could not have easily caught prey.

See also: Tsavo maneaters

Cross-breeding with Tigers

Lions have also been known to breed with their close counterparts, tigers, while in captivity to create interesting mixes. These two new breeds are called Ligers and Tigons.

Asiatic Lioness Panthera leo persica, name MOTI, born in Helsinki Zoo (Finland) October 1994, arrived Bristol Zoo (England) January 1996

The liger originates from mating a male lion and a female tiger. Because the growth inhibiting hormone present in the both the female lion and male tiger does not get passed down, these ligers do not stop growing. They will grow constantly through their lifespan until their bodies cannot sustain their size anymore, reaching up to half a tonne. Ligers share some qualities of both their parents (spots and stripes) however they enjoy swimming, a purely tiger activity. Most ligers are sterile, however a few births have been recorded.

The tigon is a cross between the female lion and the male tiger. Because both parents contain the growth inhibiting hormone, tigons are often very small, and can best be described as "house cat like" in appearance and size. Like ligers, most are sterile, and they all have both spots and stripes.

Monumental Lion guarding ,
Monumental Lion guarding Britannia Bridge , Wales

Lions in scuplture

Lions have been widely used in sculpture and statuary to provide a sense of majesty and awe, especially on public buildings. Lion statues include those around Nelson's column in Londons Trafalgar Square. Another group of large lion statues are the four lions guarding the entrance to the Britannia Bridge crossing of the Menai Strait, Wales.

External links and references

Wikimedia Commons has multimedia related to:

  Results from FactBites:
Lion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3830 words)
Panthera leo melanochaita - Cape lion; extinct in 1860.
Panthera leo sinhaleyus - Sri Lanka lion or Ceylon lion.
Molecular phylogeny of the extinct cave lion Panthera leo spelaea.
Digimorph - Panthera leo (lion) - adult (760 words)
Panthera leo, the lion, is widely distributed in the open woodlands, grasslands, and scrub of Africa, and a single population (P.
Panthera leo is a member of the pantherine lineage, which also includes P.
Panthera leo relies heavily on its massive canines and incisors when feeding on muscle and connective tissue, and the skin of the prey is removed from the carcass with short pulls using these anterior teeth.
  More results at FactBites »



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