‘King of the jungle’, is the first thing that comes to our mind when we think about lions.  The lion is a symbol of strength and pride. These magnificent creatures are silently slipping away from the kingdom that they once ruled. August 10th is the day we celebrate lions, to raise awareness on the conservation of this endangered species. Keep on reading to find out more about the king of the jungle and his fallen kingdom.

General Characteristics

A lion is a mammal who belongs to the genus Panthera and is the second-largest cat in the world. Lions can be found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They are habituated in woodlands, forests, and savannas. A male lion is bigger than a lioness. Male lions weigh 150- 225 kilograms while females weigh 120-150 kilograms. Their skin color varies from yellow to brown. Males have a characteristic mane that gives them their majestic appearance. Lions have gained the title ‘king of the beasts’ due to the presence of mane. Mane is a sign of their sexual maturity and health condition.

A male lion and a female lion with their cub.
Figure 01 – Male and female lions with their cub.

Did you know that lions don’t live alone? They live as small family groups called ‘Pride’. A pride consists of lions from cubs to adults. Prides work together to hunt. Each pride has well-defined territories. They mark their territories by urinating around. Lions have excellent hunting skills as they hunt as a pride. Lionesses show extreme motherly care towards their cubs. Lions enjoy resting and sleeping as we are. They rest 16-20 hours a day. Lions have very powerful eyesight to hunt in the night and a very strong loud roar to communicate among prides.

The Ceylon Lion

The Ceylon lion or Panthera leo sinhaleyus is an extinct pre-historic lion that existed in Sri Lanka prior to the arrival of culturally modern humans. Two teeth identified as a left lower molar and a right lower canine which were discovered in Kuruwita, Rathnapura is the only evidence of a Pleistocene lion. However, there has not been any evidence to describe how these subspecies may have differed from other species. The change of climate forming rain forests caused the lions to lose their grassland habitats. This might have been the cause of the extinction of prehistoric lions in Sri Lanka. The lion is depicted in ancient Sri Lankan art, architecture, and folklore. Considering that the Ceylon lion went extinct way before human civilization, it is highly unlikely that there is a connection between these two.

Left lower molar of Ceylon Lion
Figure 02 – Left lower molar of Ceylon Lion.

Importance of Lions in Ecosystems

As we all know, predation is something important to maintain a balanced ecosystem. Lions hunt on large animals like elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, and other small carnivores. Predation helps to control the herbivore population by reducing the number of herbivores. As a result, competition for food and other natural resources decreases. Food sources will remain for small herbivores as well. This stabilizes the ecosystem.

Lions mainly hunt the weakest or oldest members in the herd. Therefore, herds become stronger and healthier. If lions are not there to predate, herbivore populations will overpopulate. These herbivores are hosts to a lot of parasites. Hence if they are not killed, various diseases can be spread among the herds easily. Lions, who are the primary predators in food chains, play an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem.

A hungry lioness feasting on a zebra.
Figure 03 – A hungry lioness feasting on a zebra.

Threats to Lion Populations

However, over the past 20 years, there has been a rapid decrease in lion populations and they are in need of protection more than ever. Lion populations are estimated to have declined by approximately 43% over the past 21 years. 

Habitat Loss

The human population is growing rapidly, expanding agricultural lands, human settlements, and roads. This reduces habitats for both lions and their prey populations. As a result of habitat loss, lions now live closer to human settlements which puts them in constant danger.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Prey populations have declined due to widespread illegal bushmeat hunting and lions no longer have enough food to feed on. This forces lions to move closer to human settlements and feed on livestock which results in retaliatory killings caused by farmers. 

Illegal Wildlife Trade of Lions

Illegal poaching of lions using poisoned meat or baited snares or traps has increased over the years. As a substitute for tiger bones, bones and other parts of lions are used in traditional rituals and medicine and there’s a growing market for lion parts in Asia as well. Lions are prized as hunting trophies and their claws and teeth are valued among illegal traders.

A lioness.
 Figure 04 – A lioness.

Conservation of the Lion Species

Lions are currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Many nonprofit organizations work along with government agencies to conserve these big cats all over the world. Community awareness programs are held to educate the villagers on their role in conservation. Some conservation models reward the communities that show an increase in lion populations. Livestock enclosures are built to protect livestock from lions and owners are compensated to replace the animals that are killed by lions.

These kinds of programs change the community’s overall attitude towards lions when the benefits outweigh the cost of coexisting with lions. Young men are recruited to scout the area for lions. When they spot a lion, they warn the herders to avoid that area in order to protect their livestock. The community is directly involved in most of these conservation projects and as a result, retaliatory killing and poaching by villagers have decreased over the years.

A majestic lion in the wild.
Figure 05 – A majestic lion in the wild.

Researchers have been studying the lion populations, their habitats, and possible threats to develop appropriate conservation models. The species is closely tracked using high-tech collars to predict their movements and study the possible threats. 

Insufficient funding is a crisis conservationists face as it is estimated that more than one billion dollars are required annually to secure lions in Africa’s protected areas.  It is important that the local governments and political leaders see the value of the conservation of lions. Local tourism which leads to economic development and job opportunities, uplifting the state of life of local communities is directly linked to the conservation of lions. In the process of conserving lions, protected areas and other species are also conserved ensuring the safety of the whole ecosystem for future generations.  If you are interested in taking part in the conservation of lions there are many projects you can either donate or volunteer in Africa. Let’s rebuild the fallen kingdom of the lion; the king of the jungle.

Written By:

P.S.A.D.V. Chami Imasha
2nd Year Undergraduate,
Faculty of Science,
University of Colombo.


Vinuri K.W. Gunasekara
2nd Year Undergraduate,
Faculty of Science,
University of Colombo.

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