David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Lion Facts

Lions have been held in awe by humankind for millennia. As a symbol of strength and courage, they have been associated with royalty and valour for centuries. From the gladiatorial arenas of Rome to the silver screen, lions have been cast as both heroes and villains in countless tales. Here, we attempt to separate myth from reality with our lion facts. 

Learning about lions for the first time?

Download and print our lion factsheet for interesting facts on these beautiful big cats.

Where do lions live?

Lions can be found in both Africa and Asia. In Asia, they are limited to the Gir Forest and National Park, whereas in Africa, they are found in scattered populations across the sub-Sahara region as well as east, west, and southern Africa. Three of the five largest remaining African populations are found in Tanzania. 

Lion populations across Africa are in decline and they have disappeared from much of their historical range in the last two decades, including 12 sub-Saharan countries altogether. 

Lions can also adapt to a broad range of habitats. Although we might imagine them as being predominantly savannah animals, they also thrive in grasslands, dense bush, and woodlands. They have even adapted to the arid conditions of the Kalahari Desert and the swampy marshlands of the Okavango delta.  

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
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How much lion populations have decreased since the late 1990s.

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As few as 20,000 lions remain in Africa today.

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Average number of lions killed by humans each year.

Gary Bushell
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

How many lions are left in the world?

With lions living in sporadic and isolated populations across such a broad part of Africa, it is difficult to know their precise numbers. However, it is estimated that there are between 20-23,000 African lions left in the wild.

There are approximately 600 Asiatic lions left, all inhabiting the Gir Forest (about the size of London), in Gujarat, India.

What animals eat lions?

Lions are apex predators and a keystone species. This means not only are they at the top of the food chain, but also play a role in managing and influencing the ecosystems they inhabit. Therefore, no animals deliberately prey upon or hunt lions. However, competing predators such as hyenas and painted dogs, will take the opportunity to kill and maybe eat lions isolated from a pride or caught out in the open. 

How much do lions weigh?

Lions show some variance in their size, depending on their favoured prey and geographical region. They also show sexual dimorphism, with males being larger and heavier than females. 

Males can weigh between 330-550 lbs. (150-250kg) and can stand 4 feet high at the shoulder and ten feet long (1.2 and 3 metres respectively). Females are slightly smaller, weighing in between 265-395 lbs. (120-180kg), and top out at 9 feet (2.7 metres) in length. 

How long do lions live? 

In the wild, lions typically live to around 15 years of age. However, they can reach ages of up to 20. As happens too often, a lion recently killed for preying on livestock, was known to be 19 years old, and perhaps the oldest lion in Africa at the time.  

Can lions swim?

Yes, lions can swim – but they do not take to water in the same way tigers and jaguars do. In Africa, where they share habitat with large species of crocodiles, and hippos that are highly aggressive and territorial, they are more fearful and hesitant of large bodies of water and swim only out of necessity. 

Can lions climb trees?

Yes, lions are capable climbers. Due to their bulk and size, they are not as agile as leopards, and will hesitate to climb especially high – but it is not unusual for lions to climb trees to rest on low-level branches or observe the surrounding area. 

What do lions eat?

Lions can be found in both Africa and Asia. In Asia, they are limited to the Gir Forest and National Park, whereas in Africa, they are found in scattered populations across the sub-Sahara region as well as east, west, and southern Africa. Three of the five largest remaining African populations are found in Tanzania. 

Lion populations across Africa are in decline and they have disappeared from much of their historical range in the last two decades, including 12 sub-Saharan countries altogether. 

Lions can also adapt to a broad range of habitats. Although we might imagine them as being predominantly savannah animals, they also thrive in grasslands, dense bush, and woodlands. They have even adapted to the arid conditions of the Kalahari Desert and the swampy marshlands of the Okavango delta.  

Why do lions have manes?

It was long thought that manes acted as protection to a male’s neck during fights and skirmishes with other lions. However, behavioural and biological evidence now suggests otherwise. Generally, the size and colouration of a mane likely indicates the physical fitness of the male lion. But, in dry and arid regions where a thick and heavy mane would not just be cumbersome, but possibly detrimental to their health, male lions typically have smaller manes, or don’t have them at all.  

Incredibly, in specific circumstances, lionesses have also been known to grow short manes. This is limited to populations that experience high levels of infanticide by marauding males, and it is suspected that stress hormones, generating higher levels of testosterone, result in mane growth – giving the appearance that these prides have more males than they do and resulting in fewer cases of infanticide. 

What is a group of lions called?

A family group of lions is called a pride. Prides are made up predominantly of females, led by 1-3 males. However, nomadic males might also travel and work together in small, single-sex bands known as coalitions.  

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Riccardo Maywald

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