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.
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
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 - Project Leonardo 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!
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
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:
- Cat Expeditions – Big Cats Photo Tour
- Naturetrek - African Safaris
- Responsible Travel - African Safaris
- Natural World Safaris - Lion Experiences
- Biosphere Expeditions – Big Cats Malawi
- Earthwatch - Lion Research Kenya
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.