Top 25 Lion Facts

Did you know that the majestic lion is the second largest cat in the world after the tiger? Despite their fearsome reputation, the lion is one of the many endangered big cats with the African population falling to only 20,000.

To educate yourself on this magnificent beast, we’ve got some facts that you may not know about one of Africa’s most incredible creatures.

What do lions eat?

As carnivores, a lion’s diet consists of meat, mainly from antelope, buffalo and zebra, however they are also known to hunt crocodiles, birds and larger animals such as elephants and giraffes.

Do you know where lions live?

Lions mostly live in Africa, however, there are also approximately 300-400 lions in a small region of India. Despite the nickname ‘king of the jungle’, lions mainly reside in grasslands and in rocky hills where the dry conditions of the savannah help camouflage them when stalking prey.

lion eating
A lioness feeding, lions have bumps on their tongues called papillae that help to strip all of the meat from the bones. Image Credit: Steve Liffman

How long do lions live for?

In the wild, a male adult lion can live up to 8-10 years old, whereas a female adult can live 15-16 years, although the reasons for the difference are not entirely known. In captivity, their lifespan is longer, with the oldest recorded lion living to 29 years old.

How many wild lions are left in the world?

There are as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild. However, there are many thousands of lions kept in captivity for reasons such as hunting, to be used in tourist attractions such as lion petting, or for the traditional Asian medicine market.

How much do lions weigh?

On average a male lion weighs 190kg (approx 30st), whereas a smaller female lioness weighs 130kg (approx 20st). Overall male lions are much bigger than lionesses, not just in weight, but in height and length too.

lionesses in pride
Lions are social big cats and live in prides. Image Credits: Riccardo Maywald

What is a group of lions called?

You may be familiar with a group of lions being called a ‘pride’, however, this is used for a group of fewer than 20 lionesses and their young. The term for a group of male lions is a ‘coalition’.

Can lions climb trees?

Yes! Being felines, they can climb and will scale trees to relax, look out for prey and also avoid predators from other groups. Despite their ease of getting into trees, coming down can often be a much slower and clumsier descent, with some lions choosing to go backwards, rather than face first. Certain prides are more predisposed to tree climbing than others.

Is a lion a mammal?

Yes. By definition, a mammal gives birth to live young, produces milk for offspring and is warm-blooded with hair or fur, meaning lions are a mammal.

lion hunting
Lioness hunting, showing how well their fur is camouflaged in the grass. Image Credit: Petrus van Zyl

Are lions cats?

Lions belong to the Felidae family, the same as our beloved pet cats. Apart from the obvious size difference, lions have many of the same features and personality traits as domesticated cats; they love to sleep, lay in the sun and are great hunters.

Can lions swim?

Similar to a domestic cat, lions can swim, but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it. Living in Africa, watering holes are a great place to hunt big prey such as crocodiles, which means lions will swim when necessary but will avoid doing so if they can.

How fast are lions?

Lions are the second fastest land animal in Africa and can run up to speeds of 80km/h, although lionesses can run faster than male lions. Unlike other big cats known for their speed, the lion’s speed is reached in short bursts, rather than over long distances.

adult male lions drinking
Lions drinking. Male lions are the only species of cat to have a mane of hair around their necks. Image Credit: Leon Molenaar

How long do lions sleep?

Lions sleep on average 20 hours per day as they conserve their energy to hunt when it is cooler in the evening.

Why do lions have manes?

You may have noticed that the mane of a lion differs in colour and size depending on the lion, the reason being to show other lions its fitness for mating and hunting. There is a belief that the darker the mane, the more aggressive they are.

What animals eat lions?

The lion is not prey to other animals, but they do have enemies. Hyenas see lions as competition for food and will therefore attack a lion to kill, but not to eat. Lions can also be killed when hunting much larger animals such as buffalos due to their size and strength.

dominant male lion
A male lion walking in the savannah with antelope in the background. Image Credit: Andrew White

What are female lions called?

Female lions are called lionesses and there are often many lionesses to each male. They are the primary hunters and often the alpha female in a pride is called a ‘Huntress’ who looks after her cubs as well as hunts for the pride.

How big are lions?

As one of the biggest of the big cats, male lions can grow on average to 8ft long, with lionesses reaching lengths of 5.7ft. Their tails are often 2-3ft long.

Why do lions roar?

A lion’s roar is their way of communicating with pride members and also asserting their ownership of a territory. Both males and females can roar as they both possess large vocal chords which allow a roar to travel for miles!

Lions have tawny coats that provide great camouflage when stalking prey. Image Credit: Kate Douetil

How far can you hear a lions roar?

A lion’s roar can echo for up to 5 miles to warn other prides and lions of their territory, as well as show dominance, especially between male lions. It is also useful if lions become separated from their pride, as their roar can also help to reunite them. A lion’s roar is the loudest of all the big cats due to the shape of its larynx.

How many teeth do lions have?

30 teeth. Similar to other cats, a lion’s teeth are made up of incisors, canines and molars. When a lion roars, you can see its sharp canines at the front and side of its mouth, which can reach up to lengths of 7cm. These are used for ripping skin and tearing meat from bones when eating. The incisors and molars have the same function as human teeth.

How strong are lions?

Lions are the second strongest big cat in the world which is what makes them a top predator. As well as having strong teeth and claws, their bite force is far greater than a human at approximately 650-1000psi, to ensure they can clamp on to moving prey and hang on for the kill. Their big paws also strike a blow that can knock prey off their feet, which are often much larger than the lion itself.

lion yawning
Lioness yawning and showing her teeth, the long, pointed canine teeth are important for hunting. Image Credit: Riccardo Maywald

How long are lions pregnant for?

110 days. In the wild a lioness will breed no more than once in two years, however, this can be much more often in captivity due to the cruel demand for lion cubs for the tourist trade. 

How many cubs do lions have?

Most litters are made up of two or three lion cubs. In rare cases, there may be up to 6 cubs, but this isn’t common. Male cubs stay with their mothers for a couple of years, however, female cubs will often remain in the pride with their mother and sisters.

How many species of lions are there?

There two recognised lion species – the African Lion and the Asiatic Lion, however, the latter is a much smaller population that can only be found in western India.

lion cub
Lion cubs have dark brown markings on their fur which helps them to be camouflaged (see this cubs back leg) they lose these as they get older. Image Credit: Yaron Schmid

Are lions extinct?

No, but their populations are decreasing at an alarming rate with only approximately 20,000 left in the wild. Unless we work to protect this species, lions could be extinct as early as 2050. The main threat to lions are humans and their desire to hunt and kills for their bones and skins to be used in traditional medicines, and retaliation killings for livestock being eaten.

Are lions endangered?

Lions are listed as Vulnerable in their Conservation Status, meaning their populations are decreasing and we need to protect against this worsening and becoming ‘endangered’.

How can you help lions?

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) is supporting a programme to investigate and protect lion populations in two of Uganda’s key wildlife areas. You can help us protect lions in Uganda by donating to DSWF or by adopting a lion today.

World Lion Day is celebrated annually on 10 August.

Why not use this as your chance to fundraise to help protect lions from extinction?