The lion is a large cat of the genus Panthera native to Africa and India. It has a muscular, deep-chested body, short, rounded head, round ears, and a hairy tuft at the end of its tail. It is a social species, forming groups called prides. A lion's pride consists of a few adult males, related females, and cubs. Groups of female lions usually hunt together, preying mostly on large ungulates. The lion is an apex and keystone predator; although some lions scavenge when opportunities occur.
The lion inhabits grasslands, savannas and shrublands. It is usually more diurnal than other wild cats, but when persecuted, it adapts to being active at night and at twilight.
Historically, they ranged across much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but now they are found mainly in parts of Africa south of the Sahara.
Why They Matter
Lions are the apex predator of the African savanna. They play the critical role of managing large herbivore populations of buffalos, impalas, zebras, and even elephants and giraffes. In a balanced ecosystem, the number of herbivores needs to be kept in check. If there are too many herbivores, the vegetation is overgrazed and habitats inevitably degrade.
As a keystone species and apex predators, lions are crucial to the habitats they occupy. Without lions, disease spread is likely across species, and vast savanna grassland ecosystems would disintegrate into dysfunctional, barren landscapes impacting all life within.
Lion has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996 because populations in African countries have declined by about 43% since the early 1990s. Lion populations are untenable outside designated protected areas. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are the greatest causes for concern.