Browse through our pages of animals to learn more about the wonderful things you can experience at the San Francisco Zoo. From the smallest insect to the tallest giraffe, you're sure to find a story that touches and inspires you.


African Lion
Panthera leo



Fascinating Facts

  • At a kill, male lions eat first, then females, then the cubs eat last. Cubs have a high mortality rate and less than half survive their first year.
  • Hunting takes place mostly at night, and digesting large amounts of meat protein involves effort, so lions often spend as many as 20 hours a day resting.

Physical Characteristics

Male lions weigh between 330 and 550 lbs., while female lions weigh from 265 to 395 lbs, with a head to body length of 4.6 to 6.3 feet and a tail length around three feet. The lion coat is light tawny yellow or buff with a white abdomen. The male has a mane that varies in color from light tawny to dark brown to black and is protection during a fight. Its color provides excellent camouflage in grassy plains and scrub country.
Lions have 9 distinct vocalizations; the roar can be heard at a distance of 5 miles and is usually heard at sundown, after a kill and after eating. The remaining sounds have not been interpreted, but appear to having meaning within the pride.


African lions currently range in east, south and central Africa, in grassy plains, savannahs, open woodlands and scrub country. Their historic range was much wider, and some still persist in India.
In the wild, lions eat wildebeests, zebras, buffalo, gazelles, wart hogs and other ungulates that may be in its area. If large game is scarce, they will eat small game and even rodents. At the Zoo, the lions are fed a diet of fortified horsemeat, chicken and rabbits.

Social Behavior

In the wild, lions are very social animals, living and hunting in groups. The lion is the only large cat that lives in a group, or pride, which may number 5 to 35 members.
Female lions do most of the hunting, and their method varies depending on how many are involved in the hunt. A single lion will stalk and then leap upon the prey and if the chase is more than 100 yards, it will usually give up. Two lions will approach prey from opposite directions, or the hunting-age animals in the pride may surround the prey. The primary role of the males is breeding and protection of the pride.
Females breed every other year, but if a litter is lost, she may breed within a few days. A litter of 1 to 4 cubs is born after a gestation period of about 110 days. A female cub may remain with the pride for her entire life, but males are driven off by the time they are three. Cubs have rosette markings that fade as they mature.

Status In The Wild

The lion is listed as Vulnerable, but its population is rapidly declining due to loss of habitat, hunting and poisoning by agriculture and livestock interests. By the end of this century, lions will probably exist only in parks and preserves.


You can see our lions in the big cat grottos at the Lion House.