Photo of the Month: African Lion

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

African Lions; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: The African lion (Panthera leo) is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), primarily due to habitat loss, prey reduction, and hunting by man in defense of life and livestock. Recent population estimates report a 43 percent decline over the past 21 years, leaving 20,000-30,000 lions in the wild. In West Africa, however, these cats are in serious trouble: their numbers have been reduced to fewer than 400, and they live on less than one percent of their historic range.

Habitat: Lions are able to survive in a broad range of landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa, including open savannas, wood and scrublands, and semi-desert regions.

Diet: These large cats typically hunt medium-to-large hoofstock, including impala, wildebeest, and zebra, though they will also eat smaller prey like rodents, birds, and reptiles. When food is scarce, lions have been known to stalk rhinos, giraffes, and elephants.

Lions are atypical cats; instead of being solitary, they live in prides of up to 15 individuals and are most active during the day. Prides are usually composed of an adult male and several females with their young. The social system is based on teamwork and division of labor within the family group: the lionesses provide roughly 90 percent of the pride’s food via cooperative hunting while the male protects the pride and its territory.

Within a pride, lions are often affectionate and seem to enjoy lots of touching, head rubbing, and mutual grooming.

The L.A. Zoo‘s lions, Hubert and Kalisa, are 18 years old and have been together for 13 years. They arrived in Los Angeles in 2014 from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.