Possibly the best known of all the big cats, the lion is well known for its habit of living in prides or groups. Adult lions usually have a plain unspotted coat, light brown to dark ochre in color. Cubs are marked with spots which sometimes persist on the legs and belly until they are fully grown. Male lions have a brown mane, which tends to grow darker and fuller as the animal ages. The tail has a black tuft at the end. "White" lions occasionally occur in the Transvaal region of southern Africa, but these are not true albinos. Males usually stand about 48 inches at the shoulder and measure 67-99 inches head and body, with a tail of about 35-41 inches. Male weights range from 330-550 pounds. Females are smaller, usually standing 43 inches at the shoulder, and 55-69 inches head and body, with a tail of about 27-39 inches. Females weigh about 265-400 pounds.
Lions feed on a variety of large and medium-sized prey, including giraffe, buffalo, zebra, antelope, wildebeest, and warthog. Lions will also eat carrion and smaller prey.
Habitat / Distribution
Lions are generally found in open habitats -- grassy plains, savannas, arid woodlands, and semidesert. They are found across Africa south of the Sahara, south to Botswana. A small population consisting of a few hundred Asian lions still survive in the Gir forest of western India.
Reproduction / Social System
Lions have no fixed breeding season. Females in a pride will often come into estrus and give birth in synchrony. One to four cubs, each weighing about 3.25 pounds are born after a 110 day gestation period. Cubs can suckle from any female in the pride, and young usually remain with their mother for two years. Lions live in prides that range in size from 3 to 30 individuals. Pride size varies according to the area and prey availability. Groups of related lionesses and their cubs form the stable core of a pride. Daughters are usually recruited into the pride but males leave as they become mature. One to seven males associate with the group of females. Male tenure with a pride can be as brief as a few months or as long as six years, but eventually the pride males are driven off by another group of males.