Colloquial (Common) Names: Leeu (Afrikaans); isilwane, indau, ingonyama, ibhubezi (isiNdebele); ingomyama, ibhubesi (isiXhosa); ingomyama, inhubesi, imbube (isiZulu); tau (Sepedi); tau (Sesotho); tau (Setswana); ndau (Tshivenda); libhubesi, ingwenyama (siSwati).

Taxonomy: Class: Mammalia; Order: Carnivora; Family: Felidae; Subfamily: Pantherinae

Identification: Largest of the African cats, body colouration in males and females is a sandy brown colour. Males develop a large, hairy mane. The back of the ears are black.

Size: Males stand at 1.25m at the shoulder and weigh an average of 190kg. Females are usually smaller and weigh around 120-140kg.

Distribution: Lions previously occurred throughout much of southern Africa but were exterminated over much of their range. Today, lions occur almost exclusively in protected areas in South Africa, most notably the Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iUmfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal, Pilanesberg Game Reserve in North West Province, KgalagadiTransfrontier Park in the Northern Cape, Mapungubwe and Marakele National Parks in Limpopo, as well as several private reserves in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

Habitat: Previously, lions occurred in the Fynbos and Albany Thickets Biomes, as well as across the Grassland Biome, but now largely restricted to the Savanna Biome in South Africa and Swaziland. Desert-adapted lions occur in Namibia.

Activity & Behaviour: Nocturnal and diurnal, lions hunt both during the day and at night, but will usually rest under shade in the heat of the day and most hunting takes place at night. Lions occur in prides of up to 30 or more individuals. Nomadic lions occurring singly or in pairs are not uncommon.

Diet & Feeding: Lions hunt mostly antelope, zebra, buffalo, giraffe and warthog, but are opportunistic predators and occasional scavengers. These cats are also known to take young elephants, hippos, crocodiles, porcupines, pythons, jackal and cheetah.

Reproduction: Female lions give birth to between 1-6 young after a gestation period of about 110 days.

Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN, 2013.2)

References and Recommended Further Reading:

  • Skinner, J. & C. Chimimba. 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cambridge University Press.
  • Stuart, C & T. 2007. Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, Fourth Edition. Struik Nature.

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