An African Lion. Photo: Robek

Facts About Lions

Lions are not yet an endangered species. However, they are listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of the fact that their numbers have been steadily declining over the past few decades.

Lions once were common throughout Africa, the Middle East, Southern Asia, and even Southern Europe. Now there are around 30,000 remaining, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with a small population of a few hundred Asian lions remaining in India. The main reason for the decline has been relentless persecution by humans, who have always viewed them as a threat to life and livestock. In addition, in recent decades, there have been fewer prey animals available to lions because of environmental factors related to human activity as well as the fact that people have been hunting those same prey animals.

Of all the big cats, lions are second only to tigers in terms of size, with the largest males reaching 250 kilos, or 550 pounds, in weight. Females are smaller.

Lions are the most sociable of all the world’s cats. They live in families called “prides,” which consist of a number of females and one or more dominant males who defend the family against other males. Life in a lion pride is very competitive, with the males taking the lion’s share of any kill, and the smallest cubs eating last. Because of this, many cubs do not survive.

The females of the pride do much of the hunting, with wildebeest and zebras being the main prey animals of most lion families. However, male lions also do some of the hunting, especially when the pride consists of only a few animals, or the prey animal is a large one, such as an elephant.

Contrary to popular belief, the lion is not “King of the Jungle,” because lions generally do not live in jungles, preferring more open grasslands instead. In African jungles, the leopard is the top predator, while in Asia, the tiger is the true jungle monarch—and leopards try to stay out of their way.

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