In scientific classification (taxonomy) the Lion (Panthera leo) belongs to the big cat genus Panthera within the subfamily Pantherinae of the Felidae cat family.
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)
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).
This Lion classification chart shows where the Lion fits into the Felidae family and in particular the Panthera genus.
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)
Historically up to eleven Lion subspecies (or lower classifications) 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 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 two subspecies of Lions at present are:
- Panthera leo leo - Central and West Africa and India
- Panthera leo melanochaita - Southern and Eastern Africa
Taxonomy Papers since 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).
- 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).
Here is a list of papers published on Lions. Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.
We use comparable 2005 and 2018 population data to assess threats driving the decline of lion Panthera leo populations, and review information on threats structured by problem tree and root cause analysis.
We define 11 threats and rank their severity and prevalence. Two threats emerged as affecting both the number of lion populations and numbers within them: livestock depredation leading to retaliatory killing of lions, and bushmeat poaching leading to prey depletion. Our data do not allow determination of whether any specific threat drives declines faster than others.
Of 20 local extirpations, most were associated with armed conflicts as a driver of proximate threats. We discuss the prevalence and severity of proximate threats and their drivers, to identify priorities for more effective conservation of lions, other carnivores and their prey.
Bauer, H.; Dickman, A.; Chapron, G.; Oriol-Cotterill, A.; Nicholson, S.K.; Sillero-Zubiri, C.; Hunter, L.; Lindsey, P.; MacDonald, D.W.
Threat analysis for more effective lion conservation
2022 Oryx (56): 108-115
Lions are one of the world's most iconic megafauna, yet little is known about their temporal and spatial demographic history and population differentiation.
We analyzed a genomic dataset of 20 specimens: two ca. 30,000-y-old cave lions (Panthera leo spelaea), 12 historic lions (Panthera leo leo/Panthera leo melanochaita) that lived between the 15th and 20th centuries outside the current geographic distribution of lions, and 6 present-day lions from Africa and India.
We found that cave and modern lions shared an ancestor ca. 500,000 y ago and that the two lineages likely did not hybridize following their divergence. Within modern lions, we found two main lineages that diverged ca. 70,000 y ago, with clear evidence of subsequent gene flow. Our data also reveal a nearly complete absence of genetic diversity within Indian lions, probably due to well-documented extremely low effective population sizes in the recent past.
Our results contribute toward the understanding of the evolutionary history of lions and complement conservation efforts to protect the diversity of this vulnerable species.
de Manuel, M.; Bernett, R.; Sandoval-Velasco, M.; Yamaguchi, N.; Garrett Viera, F.; Zepeda Mendoza, M.L.; Liu, S.; Martin, M.D.; Sinding, M.-H.S.; Mak, S.S.T.; Caroe, C.; Liu, S.; Guo, C.; Zheng, J.; Zazula, G.; Baryshnikov, G.; Eizirik, E.; Koepfli, K.-P.; Johnson, W.E.; Antunes, A.; Sicheritz-Ponten, T.; Gopalakrishnan, S.; Larson, G.; Yang, H.; O'Brien, S.J.; Hansen, A.J.; Zhang, G.; Marques-Bonet, T.; Gilbert, M.T.P.
The evolutionary history of extinct and living lions
Conservation of big cats Panthera spp., a taxonomic group including tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and snow leopards, is a daunting challenge. As expanding human populations across Panthera range countries exacerbate competition for land and prey, conflicts between humans and big cats are inevitable.
Through a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature published from 1991 to 2014 and indexed in Web of Science and Google Scholar (186 articles), our study explored the current state of knowledge regarding human-Panthera conflict and potential solutions, examining variables such as spatial and temporal distribution of research, methods used to study conflict, evaluation of interventions, and management recommendations.
Our synthesis revealed several key data gaps and research needs. More studies could utilize diverse data collection approaches to focus on both the ecological and socio-cultural context for conflict. Additionally, only 21% of articles included in the review evaluated conflict mitigation interventions, and few of these yielded conclusive results. Success ratios suggest that compensation schemes and livestock management strategies were more effective tools for addressing conflict than either direct interventions (lethal removal or translocation of animals) or community interventions (e.g. education, ecotourism, local management). More studies should systematically evaluate the efficacy of conflict mitigation strategies, many of which are consistently recommended without empirical support.
Results highlight trends and opportunities that can be used to inform future research and management efforts focused on human-Panthera conflict, ultimately enhancing the potential for coexistence between humans and carnivore species worldwide
Holland, K.K.; Larson, L.R.; Powell, R.B.
Characterizing conflict between humans and big cats Panthera spp: A systematic review of research trends and management opportunities
2018 PLoS ONE (13): 1-19
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 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - African Lions National Geographic - Big Cats Initiative 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!
Key Facts about Lions
~ Largest African cat ~
~ Only social feline ~
~ Males have manes ~
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:
- Lion Status and Distribution Map - IUCN Red List
- African Lion Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- African Lion Academic Literature pdf - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- Asiatic Lion Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- Asiatic Lion Academic Literature pdf - IUCN Cat Specialist Group