Lion - Panthera Leo

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Lion - Panthera Leo | Leopard - Panthera pardus | Cheetah - Acinonyx jubatus | Caracal - Felis caracal | Serval - Felis serval | African Wildcat - Felis lybica | Small spotted Cat - Felis nigripes


Afrikaans Leeu Shona Shumba Zulu Ngonyama
Shangaan Nghala Tswana Tau
Photo Kobus Hugo
R.W. Min 24" Max 28⅜"
S.C.I Min 22" Max 28" Measurement Method 18

wpe3A.jpg (9449 bytes)

F 15 cm
H 13 cm

Distribution Dung
12-15 cm
Contains bone fragments and hair

Visible Male/Female Differences

Females have no manes, males are larger

Like human fingerprints and irises, the pattern of spots at the roots of the whiskers is unique to each individual


Occurs in a wide range of habitats except rain forest and true desert. Can penetrate into arid areas along drainage lines, and can go for long periods without drinking. Takes domestic animals and are incompatible with stock farming and human settlement.


Medium-sized and large prey: impala, wildebeest, zebra and gemsbok, and will also take larger species such as buffalo, giraffe, hippo and young elephants. Also eats a very wide range of animals from birds, reptiles, fish, and even insects, also smaller mammals right down to the size of mice. They kill other carnivores but rarely eat them, some cases of cannibalism have been recorded. Occasionally they become man-eaters especially in the Kruger National Park/Mozambique border area. Scavenges frequently.


Litters of up to 6 cubs (usually 1-4) weighing 1,5 kg (1% of adult body weight) are born at any time of year after a gestation of 110 days.  Cubs are concealed from the pride but are introduced to pride at 6-8 weeks -  or later if there are older cubs in the pride. Weaning starts at 10 weeks, and is completed by 6 months. Females stay in the pride, males leave by age of 3 years. They are competent hunters at two years, full-grown at 3-4 years, and their weight peaks at 7 years. Average lifespan is 13 years. Cubs, weak, old or disabled lions may be killed by spotted hyenas. Lions mate about 4 times an hour over 2-3 days (!). Pride males do not compete for mating rights as the female will mate with all of a pride's males in turn as each loses interest in her. Pride females suckle one another's cubs, with no bias towards their own.

Behavior and Habits

Lions have a lazy lifestyle and are typically active for only 2-4 hours in every 24. They are most active at night and rest during the day in shade. Lions are the only social Southern African feline species. A pride consists of a group of 2-12 (typically, 3-6) closely related adult females with their young, as well as 1-6 adult males. If there is more than one male they are often close relatives, even brothers.

Only pride males can mate with pride females. Males will take over prides by ousting current males in savage and sometimes fatal fights. The victors themselves will be displaced by new challengers after 1-10 years. New males will expel any young males from the pride and try to kill all the cubs. This will bring the females back into heat and the males can then have their own offspring. Large male coalitions result in lees chance of takovers and reduces the number of cubs killed. After a hostile takeover females come into heat and mate but do not conceive. Conception will only occur once new males have established their status against possible challengers. Lionesses fight together to defend their cubs from being killed by new males. Prides defend their territory, males defending against males and females against females. Territories can be from 40 to 450 square kilometres or larger depending on prey availability.

Lions use the classical feline hunting technique of  a stalk low to the ground, a charge and a short chase chase after which the prey is pounced on and suffocated by by closing off the windpipe or by having its muzzle covered by the lion's mouth. Lions hunting in groups. When hunting small prey, each lion chases its own animal but more dangerous prey requires cooperation which includes stalking, partly encircling of the prey, distraction and setting up of an ambush or one lion driving the pry to the pride.

Most of the hunting is done by the females (probably because it is more comfortable for the males), but unattached males have to hunt for themselves. In a pride the males take what food they want from the females. Cubs get what the adults leave behind. When food is in short supply the major cause of death in cubs is startvation. A pride in Kruger National Park specializes in killing porcupines. Only when outnumbered 4 to 1 by spotted hyenas will lionesses surrender their kills. Lions will steal other predators' kills. Adult males retain their kills and reduce losses of kills to spotted hyenas.


The powerful sound of the African night is the lions roar: beginning with a series of grunts, building in volume and length, and then trailing off again. Lions also grunt, cough and snarl. A series of explosive coughs is given as a threat to intruding humans. Small cubs have a catlike 'meow'.

Field sign

Droppings are 4 cm thick with tapered ends, usually containing hair and bone fragments. Very dark faeces point to a diet of meat with little bone, light-coloured faeces indicate more bone in the diet.

Safari Media Africa/C.A. Mitchell 2000-2012

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