The lion (Panthera lion) is the largest cat species in Africa, yet the populations of the well loved lion, the 'king of the jungle', has dramatically declined by nearly half in just two decades.

Lion (Panthera leo) Unique Facts

~ Largest of the African cat species ~

~ The only true social cat species living in prides ~

~ Males are distinct from females with a mane of hair ~

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

Lion (Panthera leo) Classification

Lions belong to the big cat genus Panthera and the full taxonomy, scientific classification or higher classification of the lion species (Panthera leo) is as follows:

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)

Lion (Panthera leo) Lower Classifications (subspecies)

Historically lions occurred both in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in the north from Northern Africa into Southwest Asia and into Europe. However only a remnant population remains in India of the original northern population and the present day populations only occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some African countries, especially in West Africa, are reporting local extinctions and it is estimated there has been an overall decline of African lions of 43% in just 21 years (1993-2014).

Up until recently lions were classified into the Asian (Panthera leo persica) and African (Panthera leo leo) sub-populations on which the latest IUCN Red List 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 current taxonomic revision of Felidae proposes 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:

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

References:

  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. <www.iucnredlist.org> Panthera leo. 23 May 2017.
  • Kitchener et al. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN / SSC Cat Specialist Group.

Lion (Panthera leo) Conservation

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

Lion (Panthera leo) Facts and Information

The following links will take you to websites with well researched and authoritative information on lions:

Two African Lions by J&A Scott


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