African Lion

African Lion

[ Panthera leo ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: male: 8.5 to 10.8 feet; female:  5.2 to 6. 2 feet

2 to 3 feet

WEIGHT: male: 330 to 530 pounds; female: 270 to 400 pounds
WILD DIET: mainly rely on hoofed mammals and the young of larger mammals like elephants and rhinos; will also scavenge or eat smaller prey; females need about 11 pounds of meat a day and males need around 15 pounds
ZOO DIET: commercially prepared meat product, plus chunk meat, liver, or bones as treats
DISTRIBUTION: south Sahara to South Africa (excluding the Congo rainforest basin); remnant population in Gujarat, India
HABITAT: from savannah woodlands to the Kalahari Desert


It’s Good to Be King

Top cat
There is no denying that lions have earned the name “king of the jungle.” Like many large cats, lions sit at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem. An adult lion can eat massive amounts of meat---more than 80 pounds in a meal if there is enough to go around. Lions will eat almost any animal, but rely on those that weigh between 100-650 pounds. Wildebeest, impalas, buffalo, wild hogs, zebras, and even young giraffes make a nice dinner for a lion.

Head hunters
Lions’ bodies are well-adapted to help with hunting. The body is long, lean, and muscular---but it might be their head that helps the most. Lions have large eyes, and are able to see in color and with binocular vision. In the daytime, they see about as well as humans dowhile at night their vision is at least six times better than ours! Part of the reason is because of a special eye structure known as a “tapetum lucidum,” which absorbs and reflects the available light. This structure is what gives lions (and all cats) the unique glow that can be seen if light is shined at them in the darkness.

Taking pride in the family
Being a hunter is not easy, especially if prey weighs more than you do. One of the reasons that lions are successful is because the rest of the pride helps out. Prides include a group of related females, their offspring, and one or more adult males. Female offspring often stick around, but males are chased away when they reach sexual maturity.

Lions hunt cooperatively, and spread out around their prey to approach it from several directions at the same time. Lionesses most often make kills, but the male lions may show dominance at a kill site. The lions slowly stalk their prey, creeping up until they are quite close. Then the lions make a rushing leap, going for the throat or suffocating the animal by clamping jaws over the victim’s mouth and nose. Even with all these skills, lions are successful only a small percentage of the timewhich means it is hard to be a hunter, even if you are king of the jungle!

Are you talking to me?
Living in a pride is just one sign that lions are very sociable cats. Another is their large range of vocalizations. Scientists have identified at least nine different sounds that lions make (but a purr is not one of themlarge cats do not have the ability to continuosly purr the way smaller cats do). Lion vocalizations include a series of different grunts (which seem to be a way of keeping in touch when the pride is on the move), and of course the famed roar, which is often heard at sundown. A lion’s roar can be heard from six miles away!

The mane event
Of course, one of the most obvious features of a male lion is its mane, which can vary in color from very light blonde to reddish all the way to black. It covers a lion’s head from in front of the ears all the way to the shoulders. The mane might offer protection during fightsor it might just be nature’s way of attracting females. It also serves as a distinguishing feature, allowing people (but probably not lions!) to tell different animals apart.

Conservation chatter
Like so many animals, one of the biggest threats facing lions is the deterioration of their habitat. Historically, they ranged all the way to Europe; they were found in the Middle East and in northern India until the early 1900s. Hunting decimated the original populations, and conversion of land for agriculture and other human uses has been the cause of more recent drops in their population. Today, they are largely restricted to national parks and other protected areas. Despite their conservation status, lions are still popular prey for trophy hunters.

African lions at Brookfield Zoo
The lion den at The Fragile Kingdom is home to a pair of African lions, Isis and Zenda, who arrived in 2008. To read more go to

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society