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

The lion (Panthera leo) is 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.

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

Panthera Lineage

1. Tiger (Panthera tigris)

2. Lion (Panthera leo)

3. Jaguar (Panthera onca)

4. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

5. Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

6. Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

7. Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Key Facts about Lions

~ Largest African cat ~

~ Only social feline ~

~ Males have manes ~

Lion (Panthera leo) Classification

Lions belong to the big cat genus Panthera and the full taxonomy or scientific classification of the lion species is:

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)


Panthera leo leo

Panthera leo melanochaita

The scientific name for lion is Panthera leo which 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).

Lion (Panthera leo) Subspecies

Lion Lower Classifications

Historically up to eleven subspecies of lions have been 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 lion subspecies fell away and up until recently lions were classified into two subspecies - the Asian lion (Panthera leo persica) and the African lion (Panthera leo leo), on which the current IUCN Red List Lion status is based:

Regionally Extinct (RE)

  • Lion Panthera leo (Mediterranean - North Africa)

Critically Endangered (CR)

  • Lion Panthera leo (West Africa)

Endangered (EN)

  • Asiatic Lion Panthera leo persica (Asia)

Vulnerable (VU)

  • Lion Panthera leo (global)
  • African Lion Panthera leo leo (Africa)

However the last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 proposed 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. Thus the lion lower classifications (or lion subspecies) at present are:

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

African Lion Conservation

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

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

Panthera - Project Leonardo

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - African Lions

National Geographic - Big Cats Initiative

African Wildlife Foundation - African Lion

Born Free - Lion Conservation

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

African lioness and cubs by Vincent Munier

African Lion and Lioness by Frank Scheidermeyer

Lion Facts and Information

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

African Lion Safaris

The following organizations offer tours to visit places you are likely to see lions in Africa. These companies offer small group experiences, support conservation projects, and indicate their trips are environmentally and ethically responsible:

Volunteer Trips:

Always bear in mind that sightings of any particular animal in its natural environment are not guaranteed and the experience of guides will greatly enhance your success.

Tours to see Lions