Visitor & Tickets
Animals & Exhibits
Learning Adventures
Temperature fluctuations and depletions of fish from human over-harvesting have caused a decline in the Inca tern population. read more >

African lion

Scientific name: Panthera leo krugeri


CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Carnivora
FAMILY: Felidae

STATISTICS: Weight: 265-551 lbs; Body Length: 5.5-8 ft; Tail Length: 3-3.4 ft

Adult lions are usually a tawny color, but can vary from a yellowish gray to a dark brown. The undersides are paler and the tuft at the end of the tail is black. Manes, only on the male lions, are yellow, brown, reddish brown or black; the older the lion, the darker the mane. Cubs have wooly coats with dark spots against a lighter background. Males are larger than females.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Grasslands, scrubs, savannahs, or open woodlands

African lions are the only big cat to live in family groups called prides. The prides can have up to three males and a dozen females. The females are usually related because the female cubs will stay with the pride while the male cubs will leave.

Males can defend a territory of up to 100 square miles. They will mark their territory with urine and they will roar to ward off any other male intruders. The mane on male lions helps protect the neck in fights. It can also indicate the lion’s physical condition, intimidate other males, and even attract females.

The lion is active three to four hours per day and also at night. It has an excellent sense of sight, hearing and smell. Female lions do most of the hunting for the pride, and work together to catch their prey. They hunt by slowly stalking - alternately creeping, freezing, and using available cover - and then leaping on the prey. Cubs will not join in hunting until they are a year old. A lion can hunt alone if necessary; it can also steal food from hyenas or wild dogs if it has the opportunity.

African lions can breed all year round, but individual females will only breed every 18-26 months. Gestation is three to four months. Litters contain two to four young, and each weighs about 1,300 grams. Cubs are born away from the pride and are brought back at six weeks old. The young follow their mother at three months of age, and are weaned by seven to ten months. The cubs suckle from any lactating female in the pride.

The mother leads its cubs to kills at four to eight weeks, but the cubs do not participate in the hunt until one year of age. The cubs will have their technique perfected by the time they are two years old. Cubs are not capable of living on their own until the age of two. Cubs reach sexual maturity at three to four years, but growth continues until about six years of age.

After the cubs reach sexual maturity the females stay with the pride, but young males are usually forced to leave. One or several male lions join the pride to mate and defend the females. Most males only remain with a pride for two years.

Predator to: antelope, zebras, wildebeest, and small animals like birds, fish, and rodents
Prey to man, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas

It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to population and range reduction. It is also listed in CITES as Appendix II.


  • Lions stay in the vicinity of their kill for several days. Prides kill about 10-20 large animals a year. Male lions can eat up to 40 kg of meat at one meal. A male lion’s prime years are from five to nine, and he is the biggest and fittest between the ages of five and six.
  • Male lions have nine vocalizations, including grunts that serve to maintain contact with the pride as it moves. The roar of the lion is heard shortly after sundown. The lion is the only social cat.
  • Throughout history the lion has been celebrated because of its courage and strength. Lions once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe, but now only roam parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.


  1. Novak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Vol I. Baltimore, Maryland. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1991
  2. African Lion San Diego Zoo
  3. Animal Omnibus-African Lion Birmingham Zoo
  4. Panthera leo National Geographic
  5. Bauer, H. & Nowell, K. 2004. Panthera leo. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Downloaded on 31 July 2008.

Published: December 2008

Want to learn more about animals?

Check out our Learning Adventures for newborn to 99.

Hours of Operation
Summer8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(March – October)
Winter10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(November – February)
*The Zoo will be closed one day only, September 8, 2018 to facilitate the preparation of the annual Zoo fundraiser, Zoobilee.