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 similar.

Panthera Lineage

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Lion (Panthera leo)

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Key Facts about Lions

~ Largest African cat ~

~ Only social feline living in prides ~

~ Males differ to females with manes ~

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Lion (Panthera leo) Classification

Lions belong to the big cat genus Panthera and the full taxonomy or scientific 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)

Subspecies: Panthera leo leo

     Panthera leo melanochaita

The scientific name for lion is Panthera leo which is also known as the lion binomial name, lion species name, lion latin name, lion biological name and lion zoological name. Some call it the lion botanical name however that term is applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).

Two African Lions by J&A Scott

Wild Cats of Africa Poster - Big Cats of Africa Poster
Wild Cats of Africa by Roger Hall
View Wild Cats of Africa Print

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 current Felidae taxonomy revision 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. 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:

Please support these organizations with their important work. No matter how small or large your contribution, every bit helps!

African lioness and cubs by Vincent Munier

African Lion and Lioness by Frank Schneidermeyer

African Lion & Asiatic Lion

Facts and Information

The following websites have well researched and authoritative information on African lions and Asiatic lions:


Books about Lions

Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil

When the Last Lion Roars

Lions in the Balance

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Lion Art Prints by Barbara Keith (available with or without frames)

Images copyright Barbara Keith

Lion Art - Golden Days by Barbara Keith
Lion Print - Golden Days by Barbara Keith
Lion Art - Shades of Amber by Barbara Keith
Lion Print - Shades of Amber by Barbara Keith
Lion Art - Ghost Image Lion by Barbara Keith
Lion Print - Ghost Image Lion by Barbara Keith