Lion guide: species facts and where they live in the wild

Often described as the king of the jungle, lions are a distinctive and well-known big cat species. Learn about lions in our expert guide, including where they live in the wild and diet.

Lioness with two cubs. © Santanu Nandy/Getty

Learn about lions in our expert guide, including where they live in the wild and diet.

How many species of lion are there?

There is only one species of lion, which is known scientifically as Panthera leo. There are two recognised subspecies, the African lion P. l. leo and the Asiatic lion P. l. persica.


Some taxonomists have proposed a different split of the subspecies – with P. l. leo covering lions in Asian and west, central and north Africa, and P. l. melanochaita for lions in south and east Africa.

There are 6 subspecies of tiger; the Bengal tiger subspecies is found on the Indian subcontinent. © Supriya Dam

Why do lions have manes?

Male lions boast impressive manes, conveying a range of information about their owners status among the pack. Long dark manes indicate that the lion is in peak condition. The darker the mane, the more attractive to females. However, long dark manes can also lead to lower sperm counts in males when temperatures rise.

Male lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya. © WL Davies/Getty
Male lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya. © WL Davies/Getty

Why do lions roar?

Lions have very complex communication behaviours, producing a variety of calls, but are known for being the king of the roar. A lions roar can be heard from 8km away, being brought on by a number of reasons. From territorial displays to locating other members of the pride, allowing females to differentiate between outsiders and males of the pack, helping them protect their cubs from lions that could potentially attack their young in aims to overthrow the pack.

Are lions king of the jungle?

Lions once lived in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America an Northern India. Now lions primarily live in Africa, aside from a small group of Asiatic lions that live in India’s Gir Forest.

African lions have a variety of different habitats, from open woodland, to harsh desert environments, these versatile animals can adapt to many different environments, although you’ll never find them in the rainforest.

Asiatic lion pair at Sasan Gir National Park. © Getty
Asiatic lion pair at Sasan Gir National Park. © Getty

What do lions eat?

Lions will kill anything, from mice and lizards to wildebeest and other large animals to feed the pack. If an opportunity arises, lions will steal kills from wild dogs or hyenas.

Most hunting takes place at dusk until dawn with the cooler temperatures being essential for the long hours spent in search of food. On days where food is highly accessible, an average male lion can consume 15 percent of their body weight.

What is a baby lion called?

Young lions are called cubs. When they are born with blue eyes, changing to an amber hue at the age of three months. At eleven months cubs will start to hunt, and will remain with their mother for around two years. Females often stay on to become members of the pride, whereas male cubs will go off attempting to establish their own. Females tend to have two to three cubs per litter.

Two young lion cubs. © Jochen Van de Perre/Getty
Two young lion cubs. © Jochen Van de Perre/Getty

How many lions live in a pride?

Lions are the most sociable members of the cat family living in prides with up to 25 others. This is down to the availability of prey in the area. The females are all related, often making up the majority of the pride, consisting of only 1-4 males.

Do lions often climb trees?

Lioness sleeping in tree, Panthera leo. Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania

Not really, says Sarah Huebner from the Lion Research Centre.  Though individuals from most prides exhibit tree-climbing behaviour, they don’t do it very often – in less than five per cent of observations.

The primary motivation for heading up into the branches it to avoid something unpleasant on the ground, such as an attack by elephants or buffalo. These skirmishes often occur after a failed predation event, when the prey animals have sufficent numcers to retaliate. Elephants and buffalo are quite capable of killing a cornered lion due to their size and strength.

Lions may also climb trees to get better vantage points for identifying potential targets, or to avoid biting insects.

Are lions endangered?

Overall, lions are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, although the different subpopulations have different classifications. The Asiatic subspecies is listed as Endangered.


Lions face a number of threats, including habitat loss, a decline in their prey species, trade in bones and other body parts for traditional medicine, and killing in retribution and defence of human life and livestock.