African Lion

African Savanna

Location in Zoo

African Savanna
4 feet
3 feet
8 feet
5 feet
400 pounds
300 pounds

3-4 years
3-4 years

Geographic Range

Fragmented populations in Central to So. Africa, mostly East Africa.

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Panthera Leo

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Activity Time Frame:
Sexual Dimorphism:
105 - 118 days
Lifespan in the Wild:
15-18 years
Lifespan in Captivity:
20 years




Adult lions usually have a plain unspotted coat, light brown to dark ochre in color. Cubs are marked with spots which sometimes persist on the legs and belly until they are fully grown. Male lions have a brown mane, which tends to grow darker and fuller as the animal ages. The tail has a black tuft at the end.

Species Specifics

Lions are in the order Carnivora along with all other cats, and in the family Felidae. There are 36 species within Felidae. Panthera is the genus that includes, lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars, all the big cats.

Physical Characteristics

Backward-curved horny papillae cover the upper surface of the tongue; these are useful both in holding onto meat and removing parasites during grooming.



Grassy Plains, savanna & open woodland


Now African Lions are found in Senegal east to Somalia. East Africa, Angola, North Nambia and From Kalahari east to Mozambique and north to Natal. Serengeti prides defend home ranges of 8-160 sq miles.



Ecological Web

Lions feed on a variety of large and medium-size prey. They prefer wildebeest (or gnu) to all others when the annual migration brings the vast herds through the pride's range. Otherwise they eat buffalo, zebra, antelope, giraffe, and warthogs. They also steal kills and carrion from other predators.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Crepuscular, sleep 18-20 hours a day


The roar of a lion can be heard up to five miles away and can be most intimidating up close. Territorial roaring is usually heard an hour after sunset. When separated they roar to let each other know where they are; females often call their cubs by roaring.

Social Behavior

Lions are the only cats that live in large family groups. Each pride differs in size and formation, but a typical pride consists of two males and seven females and a variable number of cubs. Females are usually sisters and/or cousins that have grown up together. When the pride hunts as a group they employ an ambush that forces large prey into the waiting paws of the males. Females have the speed but lack the body weight to knock down large "family size" prey such as the wildebeast. Despite their tremendous power and adaptive efficiency, lions are more likely to fail than succeed in their attempts to kill.

Reproductive Behavior

Subadult males are driven out at 2-1/2 to 3 years of age and may go in a group with other males. Females mature in about two years, males a few years later. All big cats are induced ovulators, i.e. release of the ovum is brought about by the act of mating. The period of gestation for the lioness is between 105 and 118 days and usually three or four cubs will be born. Only one in five will survive the first year.


3-4 cubs born



Curently listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, The Lion population is inferred to have undergone a reduction of approximately 43% over the past 21 years


Current Threats

Our Role

Oakland Zoo is in partnership with the Uganda Carnivore Program is dedicated to the research and conservation of lions, leopards and hyenas in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is located in southwest Uganda. In addition to scientific research and monitoring activities, an important component of the conservation activities involves working closely with the local communities to improve human-wildlife coexistence.

How You Can Help

Fascinating Facts

A lion is a digitigrade, or toe walker—their heels don't touch the ground.

A lion's loud roar is made possible by the cartilage in their throat having ossified into bone (referred to as the Hyoid structure). This is true of all the big cat or "roaring" species. Smaller cats with softer throat structures can only meow.