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Lions are top-order predators, but conservation experts have recently classified the species as being 'Vulnerable' in the wild. They estimate that only 16,000 to 30,000 are surviving in sub-Saharan Africa and in a small, isolated population in the Gir Forest in India.
Lion habitat once also included northern Africa, south-west Asia, and Europe.
Lion populations are continuing to decrease, as they are killed by farmers to protect livestock and as the supply of potential prey dwindles due to human impact on wildlife habitat.
The new classification that lions are vulnerable to extinction has been determined by researchers working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’)
An adult male lion stands just over a metre tall at the shoulder, is more than three metres long including his tail, and averages about 220kg in weight. Females are considerably smaller. Cubs are spotted, and sometimes a few spots remain into adulthood on the legs and belly.
Adult male lions are noted for their dark mane, which becomes darker and fuller as the animal matures and becomes stronger. The mane apparently indicates strength and virility, as weaker males do not have such luxuriant manes.
Lions are the only cats to live in a large family group, called a pride. A pride can be as large as 30–40 members and comprises mostly related females, their cubs and a small number of resident males.
Dominating the pride is either a single male, or a coalition of males, usually brothers. Competition among males to take over a pride is intense, and on average the duration of a lion’s rule is two to three years.
Lions are carnivorous and hunt a variety of prey including zebra, wildebeest, impala, buffalo and warthog. The pride hunts as a team, and generally it is the females who hunt to feed the pride.
See them today in Lion Gorge at Melbourne Zoo.
- Males eat first even though they generally do not participate in the hunt. Females eat next, followed by the cubs
- Only one in five lion cubs survives its first year. When food is scarce, feeding is in order of age and size, and the youngest and weakest do not survive
- A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8km away! Up close, the grass flattens in the impact of a roar
- A subspecies of lion, the Asiatic Lion, was once found all through India, the Middle East and Southern Asia, but now fewer than 450 survive in the Gir Forest National Park in western India