African Lion

Scientific Name: Panthera leo

Geographical Range: Africa, south of the Sahara desert
Habitat: Savannas and grassy plains
Conservation Status: Not protected
Diet in the Wild: Lions are carnivorous, they prefer to eat zebras, wildebeest, antelopes, and buffalo, but they will hunt small rabbits and other small animals as well.  They will eat almost anything including other lions.

Physical Description:

Male lions weigh between 330 and 550 pounds and stand about about 48 inches tall at the shoulder. They measure up to 98 inches in length, not including the tail, which measures an additional 35 to 41 inches. Female lions are smaller, weighing between 265 and 400 pounds. They stand about about 42 inches tall and measure less than 69 inches in length, with a slightly shorter tail.  Lions have massive shoulders and strong forelimbs, long, sharp claws, and short, powerful jaws.  Adult lions have fur that varies in color from light tan to reddish brown. There is a small clump of hair at the end of the tail that is darker than the other fur. Only male lions grow a mane around the shoulders, which grows darker and fuller as the animal ages. 

Social Organization:

Lions live in social groups called prides.  Lions are the only cats that live in groups.  There are usually one to two males and about seven females, but the size of each pride varies.  The females are normally sisters and cousins that grow up together.  When male lions reach about two and a half years old, the adult male lions drive them out of the pride.  They then have to find another pride to join, but to do this, the male lion must run off the other males in the pride to join the pride.  This usually ends in a brutal battle.

 Special Adaptations:

Backward-curved horny papillae cover the upper surface of the tongue; these are useful both in holding onto meat and removing parasites during grooming.  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.  The mature male's mane not only makes him appear larger, but protects his throat from other lions. Cubs are born with thickly spotted fur, which helps them hide from predators in brush and clumps of vegetation. 

Reproductive Behavior:

Females mature in about two years.  Lions are induced ovulators which means that they can mate at any time of the year.  The period of gestation for the lion is between 105 and 118 days and about three or four cubs are born.  The mother gives birth to her young in a secluded place away form the pride.  The mother introduces the cubs to the pride when they are about eight weeks old.  Very often, several females give birth about the same time, and they share the duties of protecting and nursing the cubs.  Mothers nurse for up to eight months, although they begin to take cubs to eat animal kills when they are about three months old.  At about eleven months, cubs start learning to hunt with the pride, but it will take several years of practice before the young lions become accomplished hunters.  Females take care of their young until they are about two, when the mother is ready to produce a new litter.

The Animal at the Zoo:

The Fort Worth Zoo houses one male and one female African lion.  The female was born in 1995 and arrived at the Fort Worth Zoo in March 1996.  She weighs about 260 ponds.  The male was born in 1995.  He arrived at the Fort Worth Zoo in March 2000 and weighs about 390 pounds.  (Nantz  Fort Worth Zoo) 


Page Author: Zach Mercer 

Sources and Links:
Grzimek, Bernhard. Big Felids and Cheetah. _Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia_. 12. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1975. 358-363.

Nantz, Lyndsay "Fort Worth Zoo Communication Manager"

Schaller, George. Lion. World Book Encyclopedia_. Chicago: World     Book, Inc., 1994. 340-343.

Sunquist, Mel. _Wild Cats of the World_. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. 286-299.


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