Lion (Panthera leo) - Panthera lineage
Male Lion (Panthera leo) by Kevin Pluck (Flickr: The King.) [CC BY 2.0 ] via Wikimedia Commons

Classification

In scientific classification (taxonomy) the Lion (Panthera leo) belongs to the big cat genus Panthera within the subfamily Pantherinae of the Felidae cat family.

The levels of classification for a Lion are:

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)

Class: Mammalia (mammals)

Order: Carnivora (carnivores)

Suborder: Feliformia (cat-like)

Family: Felidae (cats)

Subfamily: Pantherinae (big cats)

Genus: Panthera (big cats)

Species: Panthera leo (lion)

Subspecies:

P.l. leo

P.l. melanochaita

Note: The scientific name for the Lion species, Panthera leo, is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name and zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name however that is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).

Classification Chart

This Lion classification chart shows where the Lion fits into the Felidae family and in particular the Panthera genus:

Lion (Panthera leo) Classification Chart
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.
Credit: www.WildCatFamily.com.
Lion subspecies distribution map 2018
Lion Subspecies Distribution (2018) by Altaileopard [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Range map of the lion (Panthera leo), including present distribution (blue) and historic distribution of genetically distinct lion clades (coloured). Indicated are sites of important type specimens (including year of publication) and the border (dashed line) between the currently recognized two subspecies (P. l. leo and P. l. melanochaita).

Scientific source: Bertola, L. D., Jongbloed, H., Van Der Gaag, K. J., De Knijff, P., Yamaguchi, N., Hooghiemstra, H., ... & Tende, T. (2016). Phylogeographic patterns in Africa and high resolution delineation of genetic clades in the lion (Panthera leo). Scientific Reports, 6, 30807.

Subspecies (Lower Classifications)

The last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 proposed two subspecies of Lions:

  1. Northern Lion - Panthera leo leo - Central and West Africa and India
  2. Southern Lion - Panthera leo melanochaita - Southern and Eastern Africa

According to genetic research it was found that the Asian sub-population is closely related to the Lions in the northern range of Africa, and the southern and eastern African Lions are a distinct subspecies.

The 2023 Lion Red List assessment is based on this revised classification and covers the global population and two subpopulations:


Historically up to eleven Lion subspecies (or lower classifications) were described:

  • Panthera leo leo
  • Panthera leo azandica
  • Panthera leo bleyenberghi
  • Panthera leo hollisteri
  • Panthera leo kamptzi
  • Panthera leo krugeri
  • Panthera leo massaica
  • Panthera leo melanochaita
  • Panthera leo nyanzae
  • Panthera leo persica
  • Panthera leo senegalensis

With the advent of genetic studies many of these subspecies fell away and up until 2017 Lions were classified into two subspecies - the Asian lion (Panthera leo persica) and the African lion (Panthera leo leo), on which the 2016 Lion Red List assessment was based:

  • Lion Panthera leo (global) - Vulnerable (VU)
  • African Lion Panthera leo leo (Africa) - Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lion Panthera leo (West Africa) - Critically Endangered (CR)
  • Asiatic Lion Panthera leo persica (Asia) - Endangered (EN)
  • Lion Panthera leo (Mediterranean - North Africa) - Regionally Extinct (RE)

Taxonomy Papers since 2017

Here is a list of papers published on Lion taxonomy since the last Felidae classification revision in 2017:

Bertola, L.D., Vermaat, M., Lesilau, F. et al. Whole genome sequencing and the application of a SNP panel reveal primary evolutionary lineages and genomic variation in the lion (Panthera leo). BMC Genomics 23, 321 (2022).

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12864-022-08510-y

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-022-08510-y

  • Confirms the revised taxonomy of a northern (Panthera leo leo) and a southern (Panthera leo melanochaita) subspecies.
  • Four major clades (West & Central Africa, India, East Africa, and Southern Africa).

Research

Here is a list of papers published on Lions. Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.

View more articles on Panthera leo in the IUCN Cat Specialist Group database (scroll down once the library page is loaded to see the list).

Consider joining the Friends of the Cat Specialist Group to access the full articles and receive their journal Cat News covering the latest wild cat research.

Conservation

The global conservation status for lions is Vulnerable (VU) and populations are declining.

Lions are the largest wild cat in Africa, yet populations of the 'king of the jungle' have dramatically declined by nearly half in just two decades. Historically Lions occurred in sub-Saharan Africa as well as from northern Africa into southwest Asia and Europe. However, only a remnant population remains in India and the present day populations only occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

The following global organizations are all fighting to conserve our majestic lions in the face of rapidly diminishing habitat and persecution:

Panthera - Lion Research and Conservation - Lion Conservation Facts pdf

Great Plains Foundation - Big Cats Initiative

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - African Lions

Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) - Lion Recovery Fund

African Wildlife Foundation - African Lion

Born Free - Lion Conservation

The Lion Center - Lion Research

Please support these organizations with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!

Facts and Information

Unique among all wild cats, Lions have a social structure as opposed to a solitary lifestyle. The males also differ from females with large manes, whereas males and females of other wild cats look very similar.

These organizations have well researched and authoritative information on African Lions and Asiatic Lions:

Key Facts about Lions

~ Largest African cat ~

~ Only social feline ~

~ Males have manes ~

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