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Famille des lions dans leur enclos © MNHN - F-G Grandin

The African lion

Symbolised as the King of beasts since ancient times, the lion, Panthera leo, is a mammal from the Felidae family. Contrary to popular belief, the lion is actually the second largest cat, after the tiger, but the largest carnivore in the African continent.


Class, order and family :
Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Life span :
14-20 years for females and 7-12 years for males
Size & Weight :
80 - 110 cm (shoulder height), 110 - 170 kg for females and 140 - 215 kg for males
Gestation period :
3 - 4 months, 1 – 4 cubs in a litter
Natural habitat :
woodland savanna, forests
Diet :
Statut UICN : 

Vulnerable (VU)


Unlike the other big cats which are more solitary, lions live in a community all year long. These permanent social units are composed of females which are related to each other, males that are not related to the females, and their offspring. The pride moves around under the leadership of a dominant male who defends the territory and is the only male that mates with the mature females.
The lionesses form a stable nucleus whereas the males are pushed away from the pride when they are two or three years old. They will attempt to replace another dominant male who is too old or too weak. The risk of inbreeding is limited in this way.

Distinctive features

The male lion, with his impressive mane, looks very powerful. He differs from the Asian lion in that his mane is bigger and he does not have a flap of skin running from the belly to the hind legs.


The idea that a lion kills his predecessor’s offspring when he replaces him is contested nowadays. Accidents due to stressed females are a greater cause of death.