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African lions

African lion, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
African lion (Panthera leo) mature male, passing by, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

© naturepl.com / Anup Shah / WWF-Canon
Scientific name: PANTHERA LEO
Number remaining: 30,000-35,000
Extinction risk: Vulnerable

About the african lion

The magnificent lion is a symbol of Africa. Lions are currently found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, with key populations in protected areas in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

Lions are the most sociable of all big cats. They live in groups called prides, which usually consist of related females and their cubs, and dominant males that fight to maintain breeding rights. Adult males have a mane of hair that’s a sign of fitness and virility, and gives them added protection when fighting.

Lions are powerful and majestic, but they’re incredibly vulnerable to loss of habitat and conflict with people.

About 30,000-35,000 African lions remain in the wild today. Numbers have plummeted by around 30% in the past 20 years, and over 40% of their key populations are in decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies them as ‘vulnerable’ on its red list.

Find out how you can help save lions

Why lions matter


Lions help maintain a healthy balance

Lions live in a range of habitats – from open woodland to grasslands and desert. They’re the top predator in any habitat, which means they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy balance of numbers among other species, such as zebra and wildebeest. This in turn influences the condition of forests and grasslands.

Zebra and Wildebeest - Mara River Basin

Landscapes with lions support a wealth of other plants and animals

Landscapes with lions also provide food and income for local communities who rely on the natural resources. By protecting a lion’s landscape, we’re helping the whole habitat to thrive – for the benefit of both the people and wildlife that depend on it.

Threats to lions

People are clearing land to make way for agriculture. This is destroying and fragmenting lion habitat and reducing their natural prey numbers. It’s resulted in a number of lion populations becoming small and isolated - increasing their risk to a number of threats.

Lions living outside protected areas are more likely to prey on livestock, especially when there’s less of their natural prey around. Local farmers who need to protect their herds and their livelihoods are likely to retaliate. The region’s human population is increasing, and requiring more land for livestock and agriculture, so the problem is getting worse. Conflict with people is now one of the biggest threats to lions.

African lion (Panthera leo)
Panthera leo Lion Two month old cub Africa
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

How WWF is helping protect Lions

We’re already working hard to stop the poachers

Secure spaces for wildlife

For many years, we’ve been helping to establish and improve protected areas that are supporting lions in key places throughout Africa. We also work in a number of places to secure space for wildlife through creating conservancies and helping people benefit from wildlife.

Male lion

The Mara lion project

We support the Mara lion project, which monitors and protects lions in Kenya’s Maasai Mara landscape. Here, we’re helping study the lions’ movements and behaviour to better understand local populations. Learning more about the needs and behaviour of these magnificent cats, and the threats they face, will also help us to protect them in the long term.

The Mara lion project also works with local people to help stop human lion conflict through educating communities about lions and promoting the benefits that lions can bring people, such as tourism and community based conservation. Lions attract a lot of tourists, so they can bring much-needed income to local communities. We’re helping to make sure a greater proportion of the money from tourism makes its way to local people – so they see the benefit of living alongside lions.

How you can help protect lions