Panthera leo

African lions range from open plains to thick brush and dry thorn forests in sub-Saharan Africa. They are carnivores. A lion's roar can be heard up to five miles away. Lions can purr only when they exhale, due to the position of their hyoid apparatus (a bone at the base of the skull).

Lion behavior and facts

  • Lions prey on warthog, wildebeest, zebra, impala and sometimes domestic livestock. They are mostly nocturnal (active at night) and spend much of the day sitting or sleeping.
  • They live in large social groups of related females, called prides. A pride consists of up to 40 females and at least one adult male. Males usually handle most of the defense duties, marking territory with roars and scent marks (urine). Females also help defend the territory.
  • Females do most of the hunting. Several females stalk a targeted animal from different angles, closing to within 100 feet before attacking.
  • A female usually stays in her mother’s pride for life, leaving only when food scarcity forces her out. Young males are driven from the pride when they are old enough to compete with the dominant males. They then join in coalitions, usually with brothers and cousins, and search for a pride to take over. When they enter a new pride, adult males kill all cubs, contributing to an 80 percent mortality rate for lion cubs.
  • Lions have nine distinct vocalizations, including roars, grunts and growls.
  • The long, shaggy manes of adult males protect them during fights and indicate their fitness. Both males and females have yellowish-gold coats; young lions often have light spots on their coats that fade as they age.

From birth to death

  • When pregnant or nursing, females are not receptive to males.
  • Gestation: 3.5 months
  • Females usually give birth to a litter of up to five cubs every two years.
  • At three months old, cubs begin to eat meat.
  • At six months cubs are weaned.
  • Sexual maturity: about 24 months
  • Lifespan: 15 years; up to 25 years in captivity

Vital statistics

  • Length: males up to 10 feet; females up to 9 feet
  • Height: 3.5 to 4 feet at the shoulder
  • Weight: males 330 to 530 pounds; females 270 to 300 pounds
  • Tail: 2 to 3 feet


The West African subspecies of lion is listed as endangered and the East and Southern African subspecies as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, and are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

African lions, the Oregon Zoo and you

Zawadi, Kya and Neka live in the Predators of the Serengeti exhibit. All three participate in the Oregon Zoo's new lion breeding program, a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for African lions. Neka and Kya have each had three cubs.