PANTHERA LEO: African Lion
“Lion: the fiercest and most magnanimous of the four-footed beasts“
Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the African lion.
Let’s start our journey of discovery with Etymology, where did the lion get its name?
The lion’s name derives from the Latin Leo; the ancient Greek λέων (Leon) with the Hebrew word lavi possibly also related. The generic component of its scientific designation, Panthera¸ is presumed to derive from Greek pan– (“all”) and the (“beast”) but this may be a folk etymology. The name came into English through the classical languages, but panther is probably of East Asian origin meaning “the yellowish animal”.
The lion was first classified as Felis Leo by Linnaeus in 1758 from a specimen found in Constantine, Algeria
The lion (Panthera leo) is a mammal and second largest in the family Felidae, being slightly smaller than the tiger (Panthera tigris). The leopard (Panthera pardus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca) are the two other cats that make up the four “big cats” in the genus Panthera.
“Lion” in various languages
- Afrikaans: Leeu
- Swahili: Simba
- isiNdebele: Indua
- isiZulu: Ingonyama
- isiXhosa: Ingonyama
- seSotho: Tau
- seTswana: Tau
- Shona: Shumba
- Shangaan: Nghala
- Venda: Ndau
- Nama/Damara: Xamm
- Herero: Shitona
- Ovambo: Shinga
Origin of a Species
Fossil evidence suggests that the earliest lion-like cat (P. l. fossilis) appeared at Laetoli in Tanzania in East Africa during the Late Pliocene (5.0–1.8 million years ago).
In a pattern broadly resembling that of humans, lions migrated out of Africa during the Middle Pleistocene (800–100,000 years ago – kyr) into Europe, Asia and North America extending as far south as Peru and becoming the most widespread large terrestrial mammals during the Late Pleistocene (100–10 kyr).
Recent genetic studies have suggested that at least two distinct lineages of lion inhabited western Eurasia at the end of the Pleistocene: the Holarctic cave lion (P. l. spelaea), and the modern lion (P .l. leo).
It has been suggested that a population bottleneck of the modern lion (ca. 55–200 kyr) allowed a single population of lions to replace older populations in Africa and south-western Eurasia.
This single origin replacement model of modern lion evolution provides a parallel to the ‘recent African origin’ model of human evolution (in comparison to the ‘multiregional evolution’ model), in which modern Homo sapiens evolved in Africa ca. 200 kyr and went on to replace hominids (e.g. the Neanderthals) elsewhere.
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How do lions hunt?
With relatively small hearts and lungs, lions are not fast runners; a maximum speed of 60kph, nor do they have the stamina to keep this pace for more than a 100 – 200m. As such, lions rely on stalking their prey and rarely charge until they are within 30m unless the prey is facing away and cannot see the charge.
Lions stalk their prey and although ambush behaviour has been observed, this happens mainly during daylight when stalking prey is more difficult. Of 1,300 hunts observed in the Serengeti, 48% involved only one lion, 20% involved two, and the remainder involved a group of three – eight (up to 14).
Top requested lion volunteer projects
Volunteering with Lions
Location: Antelope Park
Imagine Africa without the mighty lion. It’s a kingdom without a king. Nothing would be more devastating to this continent than losing this iconic majestic animal.
Teaching & Lion Conservation
Location: Antelope Park
Wildlife conservation and community development go hand in hand. There’s no way of saving African wildlife, without getting the local communities involved.
Location: Victoria Falls
What is Africa without the iconic African Lion? What sound would resonate through the African night? Who would be king? Africa would simply not be Africa without its king.
Diseases affecting African lions
Diseases can be classified as endemic or epidemic dependant on their persistence in a population. Although lion populations can be affected by high mortality over brief periods caused by epidemic viruses, endemic viruses can be constantly prevalent and are thought to exhibit low pathogenicity.
Epidemic disease risks for animals living in fragmented small populations become significantly higher as contact with human and domestic animal populations become more frequent and as a result of alterations in microclimate and landscape ecology. The tools to predict, prevent and respond to these risks are not well established in conservation management.