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Lion guide: species facts and where they live in the wild
Often described as the king of the jungle, lions are a distinctive and well-known big cat species. Learn about lions in our expert guide, including where they live in the wild and diet.

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Emily Gobbett

The African lion is one of the most iconic and revered mammals in the world. With its strong jaw, powerful body, and fierce roar – which can be heard several miles away, it is easy to see why this species has been admired throughout history.

While the species once roamed widely in parts of Europe and Asia, numbers of lion have declined significantly in recent years, with lions now only found in parts of Africa.

One of the big cat species and a domineering apex predator, our expert lion guide looks at key species facts, including identification, diet, habitat and why the species is now endangered.

How many species of lion are there?
There is only one species of lion, which is known scientifically as Panthera leo. There are two recognised subspecies, the African lion P. l. leo and the Asiatic lion P. l. persica.

Some taxonomists have proposed a different split of the subspecies – with P. l. leo covering lions in Asian and west, central and north Africa, and P. l. melanochaita for lions in south and east Africa.

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Why do lions have manes?
Male lions boast impressive manes, conveying a range of information about their owners status among the pack. Long dark manes indicate that the lion is in peak condition. The darker the mane, the more attractive to females. However, long dark manes can also lead to lower sperm counts in males when temperatures rise.

Male lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya. © WL Davies/Getty
Male lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya. © WL Davies/Getty
Why do lions roar?
Lions have very complex communication behaviours, producing a variety of calls, but are known for being the king of the roar. A lions roar can be heard from 8km away, being brought on by a number of reasons. From territorial displays to locating other members of the pride, allowing females to differentiate between outsiders and males of the pack, helping them protect their cubs from lions that could potentially attack their young in aims to overthrow the pack.

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Are lions king of the jungle?
Lions once lived in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America an Northern India. Now lions primarily live in Africa, aside from a small group of Asiatic lions that live in India’s Gir Forest.

African lions have a variety of different habitats, from open woodland, to harsh desert environments, these versatile animals can adapt to many different environments, although you’ll never find them in the rainforest.

Asiatic lion pair at Sasan Gir National Park. © Getty
Asiatic lion pair at Sasan Gir National Park. © Getty
Can lions and tigers co-exist?
India is the only country in the world that is currently home to both of these charismatic big cats, and history and biology say they can indeed co-exist. The felines’ ranges overlapped for millennia across much of western Asia – in India, this was the case into the early 19th century.

Much as predators co-exist in Africa, tigers and lions can live together within carefully drawn boundaries. For example, they may use adjoining habitats, or the same habitats at different times. Behavioural adaptation is another strategy, particularly when it comes to hunting: tigers are largely
killing prey by ambush, while lions are social felids, hunting co-operatively with their prides.

The question of lions and tigers as neighbours is gaining importance in India. The Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh has been ‘prepared’ and is awaiting translocation of a number of Asiatic lions, which survive only in the greater Gir landscape in Gujarat, western India. In the meantime, tigers are moving into Kuno from the famous Ranthambhore Reserve, crossing rivers and ravines along the way.

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