African Lions


Lions at Play

Name: African lion
Scientific name: Panthera leo 
Range: Central Africa
Habitat: Open and lightly wooded grassland
Status: Not threatened 
Diet in the wild: zebra,  buffalo, giraffe, warthogs
Diet in the zoo: carnivore diet
Location:  Overlooking the African Hoof Stock Exhibits

Physical description: 

Length 7.9 to 9.5 feet, weight 265 to 420 lbs. The coat pattern for adults is tawny yellow.   The cubs' coat is wooly with dark spots against a lighter background. Males have a large mane and are about 50% larger than females.  The color of the mane in males varies from yellow to black.

{short description of image}General information

The lion is the only social cat and lives in groups called prides. There may be as  many as forty lions in a pride including 2-18 adult females and offspring and 7 male adults. The males of a pride are a coalition of related animals, as are the females, but they are not related to each other. The formation of groups helps to maximize the reproductive success of both sexes.

The female lions breed about every two years, the period it takes to raise her cubs to independence. A female goes into seclusion to have her cubs, who are born small and immobile. Their eyes open at 3-11 days; they can walk at 10-15 days and run at 20-25 days. Their mother brings them back to the pride when they are about a month old. Births can occur year round, but generally, all of the female lions in a pride will give birth at about the same time. All of the females  in a pride will care for and protect the cubs in their creche from other predators or marauding males. A female preferentially feeds her own cubs, but will allow offspring which are not hers to nurse from her. Since the females of a pride are related, cooperative care assures their genetic survival.

Females do the hunting and will often hunt in groups. With a smaller body, the lioness is lighter and faster; and without the large mane it is easier for her to hide in the grass. They have excellent vision to spot other animals. By moving their ears, they can hear sounds made by animals from any direction. Their soft paws enable them to walk quietly through the grass as they stalk their prey. Using their strong sense of smell lions can tell if prey is nearby. 

It is rare that all are assembled in one spot. They are scattered singly and in small groups that change from day to day. Members of a pride will greet each other with friendly gestures by rubbing their heads, or even their whole bodies against each other. Social grooming is important in a pride.

Lions live an average of 10-12 years in the wild and 20 years or more in captivity. Lions spend 20-21 hours a day resting. They need skill patience and judgment to capture prey. They are  most likely to be active in late afternoon, early and late night, and during the early hours of daylight

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations

A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away. Roaring is believed to have a territorial function and to help animals locate each other.

Territories are scented marked with urine, feces, and head rubbing. Lions mark with their claws on trees and other signposts.  The mane of the male  provides protection from the claws and teeth of other males.

. They eat anything they can catch and kill, and groups have even been observed killing rhinoceros. A lion can eat up to 35 grams of meat at a sitting. They drink freely when water is available, but they can survive only on the water they get from their prey for long periods of time.

Lions can run at speeds over 30 mph, but only over short distances. This speed is insufficient for catching a large antelope, so group stalking is an important hunting strategy. Lions appear to assess how much effort will be required for taking down a particular target, and if the prey is small enough to be taken by a single female, the other members of the hunting group will let her catch it alone.

Comments about the lions of the Fort Worth Zoo

The Fort Worth Zoo has three lions: two females and a male. The males was recently introduced to one of the females and perhaps cubs will result. The gestation period for lions is about 110 days.

The lions are housed in two large exhibits along the upper walkway.

Although the lions can often be heard roaring near feeding time, don't roar as much as they would if they were in their natural environment.


Personal Observations

Lions spend much of their time sleeping,
but on cool days they are more active and playful. The two females sometimes play together. See Lions at Play. Even the male can be drawn into a game of chase.

Some adult lions, like the females at the Fort Worth Zoo, retain some of their baby spots.

The lions are housed just opposite the African hoofed stock and these two are watching the kudu with great interest.

Related Links:

Lions at the CyberZooMobile

Lions at Knowsley Safari Park

Lion kill =>
recorded at

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Page author: Veronica Donald

Source list:

Birmingham Zoo:
San Antonio Zoo:
Pusey, A.E. Divided We Fall: Cooperation Among Lions.
Scientific American, May 1997, pp.52-59.
Africam Species Profiles:


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