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.
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)
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)
- Asiatic Lion Panthera leo persica (Asia)
- 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:
- Panthera leo leo - Central and West Africa and India
- 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!
Lion Facts and Information
These organizations have well researched and authoritative information on African lions and Asiatic lions:
- Lion Status and Distribution Map - IUCN Red List
- Lion Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- Lion Academic Literature pdf - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
Preview The Secret Lives of Big Cats filmed using high tech starlight and thermal imaging night cameras to capture previously unrecorded behavior. The series includes seven episodes on the secret lives of Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Leopards, Snow Leopards, Pumas and Cheetahs. Produced by CuriosityStream.
Lion Documentaries and Videos
These documentaries and video clips about the African Lion and Asian Lion are now available online, via YouTube or a subscription to a streaming service.
Apologies if any links are broken as videos are removed from time to time. If so, search for the video title to find if it is available elsewhere.
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:
- Naturetrek - African Safaris »
- Responsible Travel - African Safaris »
- Natural World Safaris - Lion Experiences »
- Earthwatch - Lion Research Volunteer »
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.