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Lions: The Uniquely Social ‘King of the Jungle
Reference Article: Facts and information about lions:
Lions are the second-largest cats in the world, after tigers. Known as the “king of beasts” or “king of the jungle,” these regal felines once roamed Africa, Asia and Europe, but now only live in parts of Africa and India.
Experts have long recognized two subspecies of lion, Panthera leo leo (the African lion) and Panthera leo persica (the Asiatic lion). However, recent studies suggest that lions from West and Central Africa are more closely related to Asian lions than they are to lions from the eastern and southern parts of Africa, according to the Cat Specialist Group, a component of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2017, the Cat Specialist Group published their reclassification of lions into two new subspecies: Panthera leo leo (also called the Northern subspecies) and Panthera leo melanochaita (the Southern subspecies).
Panthera leo leo includes lion populations in Central Africa, West Africa (West African or Senegal lion), India (Asiatic lion) and extinct populations previously found in North Africa (Barbary lion), southeastern Europe, the Middle East, the Arabian peninsula and southwestern Asia. Panthera leo melanochaita includes lion populations from southern parts of Africa (Katanga lion and the Southeast African lion) and East Africa (Masai lion and Ethiopian lion).
Although the West African and Asiatic lions are genetically similar, many of their physical characteristics and behaviors are slightly different.
How big are lions?
African lions can grow to between 9 and 10 feet long (3 meters) from head to tail, with the tail being about 2 to 3 feet long (60 to 91 centimeters), according to the Smithsonian National Zoo. They typically weigh between 330 to 550 pounds (150 to 250 kilograms), with males reaching the higher end of that range.
Asiatic lions (also called Asian or Indian lions) are slightly smaller than African lions. They are 6.6 to 9.2 feet (2 to 2.8 m) long from head to tail and weigh between 242 to 418 pounds (110 to 190 kg), according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).
Lions tend to have loose skin hanging from their midsection, possibly to help protect them from the piercing hooves of their frantic prey. Asiatic lions also have a fold of skin that runs along their belly, a feature rarely seen in African lions, according to African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), a research and conservation organization. Compared to African lions, Asiatic lions tend to have shaggier coats, longer hair tufts on their elbows, and a longer tassel on the end of their tail.
Not only are male lions generally larger than females, but they also have a distinctive thick mane of hair around their heads that females lack. The biggest and most fabulous manes are more impressive to mating females and more intimidating to competing males, according to the San Diego Zoo. The mane also protects the male’s neck during fights over territory or mating rights. African lions tend to have bigger, more magnificent manes compared to their Asiatic cousins.