125 to 272 kilograms (277 to 600 pounds)
1.2 meters at the shoulder (48 inches) and about 2 to 3.3 meters in length (7 to 11 feet)
10 to 18 years in the wild. Up to 30 years in captivity.
Grassy plains and open woodlands
Average about 109 days
Africa's largest cat can be found in savanna, plains, grassland, dense bush, and woodland habitats.
It is the second-largest living big cats after tigers. Males are unique among the cat species for their thick mane of brown or black hair encircling their head and neck. The mane darkens with age, and the thicker and darker a mane is the healthier the cat. Both males and females roar—a sound heard as far as 8 kilometers away.
Behavior & Diet
Antelope, zebra, and wildebeests are common prey for this big cat. However, scavenged food provides more than 50 percent of their diets—these big cats will often take over kills made by other carnivores—and cooperative hunting enables them to take down prey as large as buffaloes, rhinos, hippos, and giraffes. The female does 85 to 90 percent of the hunting, usually by setting up an ambush for its prey. The kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, cubs might experience higher mortality rates as hungry females may not even share with their offspring.
While most cat species are solitary, this big cat is an exception. It has developed a social system based on teamwork, division of labor, and an extended family unit. The average pride consists of about 15 individuals, with five to 10 females, their young, and two or three territorial males. These are usually brothers or pride mates who have formed a coalition to protect their females.
When resting, which may be up to 20 hours a day, these cats seem to enjoy good fellowship with lots of touching, head rubbing, licking, and purring.
Usually, two or more females in a pride give birth around the same time, and the cubs are raised together. Some mothers carefully nurture their young and will even permit other lion cubs other to suckle, sometimes enabling a neglected infant to survive. However, at times, a female may also neglect or abandon her cubs, especially if food is scarce.
This cat’s population is steadily decreasing in the wild. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43 percent, and it’s estimated that as few as 23,000 remain today. One of the main causes is the alarming rate at which they are losing their habitats due to expanding human populations and the resulting growth of agriculture, settlements, and roads.
As lion habitats shrink, the big cats are being forced into closer quarters with humans. This, coupled with a decrease in their natural prey, causes them to attack livestock. In turn, farmers oftentimes retaliate and kill these big majestic cats.
These big cats are being killed in rituals of bravery, prized as hunting trophies, and, increasingly, for their body parts' perceived medicinal and magical powers.
Here's how we're protecting Africa's largest cat from extinction:
Retaliation is the primary reason people kill this big cat. We work with communities to help them realize the big cat’s value and to help them protect their families and livestock from carnivore predation. In Ruaha National Park, where 10 percent of the world’s remaining lion population can be found, AWF’s Ruaha Carnivore Project is fostering a much-needed shift in the local opinion of carnivores.
Since 2012, AWF has been working with Ruaha’s communities to build livestock enclosures to protect livestock from predation, and, in turn, protect big cats and other carnivores from conflict with humans. In addition, Ruaha Carnivore Project provides community benefits to villages that demonstrate success in living peacefully with carnivores.
African Wildlife Foundation’s researchers are working to gain an understanding of carnivores’ populations, behaviors, movements, and interactions with people in order to develop appropriate conservation actions. Since 2002, our Large Carnivore Research Project has undertaken research aimed at ensuring the continued survival of large predators living around Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
With the continental population decreasing and threats continuing to mount, it’s become more important than ever to closely track this species. In Tanzania’s Manyara Ranch, AWF tagged the lions with high-tech collars equipped with radio transmitters to track the animals’ natural movements. This allows scientists and conservationists to monitor for potential disease outbreaks, home range, productivity, behavior, habitat use, survival, predator-prey interactions, and ultimately population estimates.
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