The word lion comes from the Latin and Ancient Greek words for lions. The Latin word is ‘Leo’ like the star sign, and the Ancient Greek word is ‘Leon’.
There are 2 types of Lion: African and Asiatic Lions.
African lions live in the savannahs and grassy plains in lots of areas south of the Sahara. In the past they lived all over Africa, including the North. In fact, there were still lions in North Africa up until the 1960s.
Asiatic Lions are now only found in Gir National Park in western India. They also live in savannahs but often in more forested areas. Thousands of years ago lions roamed all over Asia and Europe! There are cave drawings in France which depict lions. Over time their range was reduced through Turkey and Iran until they only existed in India.
Lions are muscular cats with a light yellowish fur, often with brown on the tail and mane.
The male and female lions are different, which is called ‘sexual dimorphism’. Lions are the only members of the cat family with such clear dimorphism.
Male lions have a large mane around the head, neck, and chest. It is usually a darker brown but can have a red or yellow tinge. Male lions are also usually bigger, with larger heads.
Female lions can reach 1.8m long but male lions can reach 20m. Female lions are also lighter, but lions weights depend on where they live.
Lions do nothing but rest for up to 20 hours a day. This is because it is so warm where they live that they need to conserve their energy. They hunt early in the morning while it is still cool, and socialise, groom, and move about after sunset.
Lions like to live together in groups called ‘prides’. These are usually about 15 lions but can reach up to 30. When a male lion reaches 2 or 3 they leave their pride to find a new one or become nomads.
Lions are carnivores that need nutrients from meat to survive. They eat wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, giraffe, deer, monkeys, and more.
Lions learn to stalk at 3 months and start hunting at one year old. The pride hunts as a group, each lioness has a favourite position to hunt in, a bit like a football position. Male lions do not hunt with the pride but can hunt alone.
Lions are classified as vulnerable in the wild.
Humans have used lions for entertainment for a long time. These days we enjoy seeing lions at the zoo or safari park, but it wasn’t always like this. Throughout time hunting was seen as a sport and killing a dangerous animal was sometimes seen as a strong thing to do. Romans used lions in the colosseum, and lions are still sued in circuses in some places. This is cruel and banned in many countries.
Large areas of land have been designated as national parks so that lions can be protected from poachers. In 1974 there were only 180 lions in India, now there are 523.
If you like big cats you can read about the cheetah here.