Panthera leo leo
DESCRIPTION (male) Length, including tail, 8-1/2 to 10 feet (260-305 cm), occasionally more. Shoulder height 40-48 inches (100-120 cm). Weight 350-500 pounds (160-225 kg), sometimes more. (female) Head and body length, including tail, 7-9 feet (215-275 cm). Shoulder height 38-42 inches (97-107 cm). Weight 265-375 pounds (120-170 kg). The female normally has two pairs of teats, but some individuals have been recorded with three pairs.
The lion is the largest cat in Africa and, among the world's cats, is second in size only to the tiger. The smooth short coat is usually tawny beige in color, but can vary from light gray to dark reddish brown. The end of the tail has a black tuft, and there are black markings on the backs of the ears. There are five toes (including dewclaws) on the front feet, four on the hind feet, all with sharp, curved, retractile claws. The male usually has a mane of long hairs on its head, shoulders and chest, but there is much variation, with some individuals having magnificent manes and others being nearly bald, and the color varying from blond to black. Besides being considerably smaller than males, females are more lightly built and lack a mane.
BEHAVIOR Lions are the most social of all cats and usually are found in family groups, or prides, consisting of related females and their young plus one or more adult males. Adult males often form small bachelor groups. Seldom solitary. Each group has a large home range. Not territorial. Breeding takes place throughout the year, although in any one pride the females tend to deliver offspring at about the same time. A female normally gives birth every 18-26 months, with 3-4 cubs the usual number (the range is 1-6). Cubs are sexually mature at 3-4 years, but continue to grow until about age six. Longevity in the wild: males about 12 years, but up to 16 years, females 15-16 years, but up to 18 years; in captivity average 13 years, but as much as 25-30 years.
Lions spend most of the time resting and sleeping, averaging 20 or more hours of inactivity a day. Activity may occur at any hour, but their hunts take place mainly at twilight and night. Lions are entirely carnivorous, their usual prey consisting of warthogs, antelopes and zebras in the 100-650-pound range (45-300 kg), though larger species such as buffalo and giraffe are also taken. Will eat carrion. An individual lion can eat as much as 80-90 pounds (36-41 kg) of meat at one meal, and is estimated to require 10-20 large prey animals per year. May prey on cattle and other livestock, and some lions become man-eaters, creating havoc when they do. Drinks daily when water is available, but can subsist without water for long periods by obtaining moisture from its prey.
Sense of smell is good, hearing and eyesight are excellent. Its voice is the well-known roar, which is heard mainly at night and is audible for miles. Able to run 40 mph (65 km/h) for a short distance. A poor tree-climber.
HABITAT Grassland, bush and savanna woodland. Rarely in dense forest. Never in rain forest.
DISTRIBUTION Widespread throughout Africa from south of the Sahara to northern Namibia, Botswana and parts of South Africa.
REMARKS A lion is a highly esteemed hunting trophy and taking a good one is a major event for both client and safari staff. The usual hunting methods are by baiting or tracking; however, many lions are taken by chance encounter. Lions can be extremely dangerous when wounded or provoked, especially if other members of the pride become involved.
Trophy quality is determined largely by the mane, although size of body and skull are also important. Because a lion's Record Book score is the sum of its skull measurements, skull size is of primary importance to anyone seeking a high ranking. Unfortunately, a large-bodied, large-skulled lion can have a poor mane, and vice versa. The ideal combination of a full mane of whatever color the hunter prefers, a large body and a large skull is difficult to find and often necessitates a number of safaris.
An unfortunate consequence is the setup or "canned" lion hunt, in which a captive lion is presented to an unsuspecting client. Such a "hunt" can be impossible for the client to detect if well-orchestrated. Since the beginning, SCI has had a policy against accepting setup lions for the Record Book, and has never knowingly done so.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Smithers lists 24 subspecies of lions in Africa, including leo (Barbary lion) and melanochaitus (Cape lion), but considers them of little significance. All are combined here, with leo Linnaeus, 1758 having priority.