Throughout history, lions have been admired as a symbol of power, strength, and courage. Previously, lions roamed throughout all of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe. However, this mighty species is now found only in fragments of sub-Saharan Africa, along with a critically endangered subpopulation in West Africa and a small population of Asiatic lions in India’s Gir National Park. Three of the five largest lion populations can be found in Tanzania.
The vast majority of lions live south of the Sahara. Since lions are extremely adaptable big cats, they can survive in a wide variety of habitats, including dry forests, thick bush, floodplains, and semi-arid desert areas. However, they typically prefer open savannas where it is easier to stalk their prey.
Compared to other big cat species, lions are the most sociable. They live in groups called prides, which can consist of anywhere from two to 30 members, including three or four males, a dozen or more females, and their offspring. Lionesses remain with the same pride for their entire lives. Male lions, on the other hand, leave after maturing to compete for control of another pride. Leading males defend their territory by marking it with urine and roaring to scare off intruders. A lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away and is also a show of power between males.
Within their pride, female lions act as the primary hunters and work in teams to prey on zebras, wildebeests, antelope, and other large herbivores. Lions sleep up to 20 hours a day, so most of their hunting is done at night or early in the morning. This is because their eyes easily adapt to the dark, and it is easier to sneak up on prey at night.
Along with hunting for the pride, female lions are responsible for raising their offspring. They typically give birth to a litter every two years, which consists of one to four cubs.
The IUCN estimates that between 23,000 to 39,000 lions remain in the wild. However, other data from recent years suggests that that number may be closer to 20,000, as three-quarters of their population is in decline. Although lions are not currently endangered, population numbers will continue to decrease without proper conservation efforts.