The African lion is a large, light brown to brownish-orange cat species with a long, black-tufted tail. Lions are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female look different from one another. Adult male lions can have large fluffy manes while females do not. These manes serve a few purposes, including to attract females, and to protect the male lion’s vulnerable neck region during a fight.
Diet: Their prey includes ungulates (hoofed animals) such as antelopes, zebra, and wildebeest. However, lions will eat almost any animal, from rodents to rhinoceros, when given the opportunity. They also scavenge, displacing other predators, such as the spotted hyena, from their kills.
In the Wild: Lions are incredibly social creatures, living in groups ranging between 3-30 individuals called “prides.” The pride has a close bond, and separates into smaller groups to hunt for prey.
Conservation issues/actions: Disease, hunting and intentional poisoning by humans, and loss of habitat are causing lion populations to decrease. An estimated 20,000 African lions live in Africa. Natural habitat for lions is now found only in protected reserves. Zoos accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are partnering with organizations in Africa to mitigate conflict between farmers and lions, increase monitoring of the lion population’s numbers and distribution, and address habitat loss. The SAFE African lion team are working towards their goals with the Lion Recovery Fund and Disney’s Protect the Pride campaign, to double the number of lions in the wild by 2050.
At the Zoo:
Zoo lions are great hunters too. Lions are most active when searching for and capturing food. The lions at the Zoo do not have to run fast across the savanna to find food, but they do have to solve the puzzles their keepers provide in training sessions. Additionally lion spend time licking, tearing and playing with some of the large, meat ice treats made by their keepers. The lions use their sense of smell and keen eyesight to locate these special treats. After their meal or treat, a lions most likely behavior is a long afternoon nap!