The distribution of Panthera leo
Where do lions live? Today the range of the lion, Panthera leo is almost entirely limited to sub-Saharan Africa. Lions occur throughout that region, except in the equatorial rain forest and in the heavily populated regions along the southern coast of the western portion of the continent (see map at right).
But these large predators do not easily coexist with humans, and as human populations increase, lion populations decline. Due to poisoning and hunting by livestock owners, they are now rare outside protected areas, and their distribution is highly fragmented. Many lions in eastern Africa are also being lost to canine distemper. The last wild lion in Africa north of the Sahara was shot in Morocco in 1920.
Where do lions live outside Africa?
Lions were once far more widespread than they are today. In historic times they were found throughout much of southern Eurasia (map of the lion's former range). Anciently, they were also present in Greece and the Balkan Peninsula. For example, they are mentioned repeatedly in the Iliad. Prehistorically, they were distributed even more widely. Their fossils are known from Germany, Italy, northern Asia, and even North America. From Turkey to India, they were common even as late as 1850. And it's likely that in the Middle East in prehistoric times, they formed a hybrid zone with tigers, with which they easily cross.
But today, with human populations expanding throughout the Middle East, the Asian lion has almost disappeared. Only a small, population of about 250 individuals survives, all either in western India's Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as Sasan-Gir) or in nearby areas on the Kathiawar Peninsula (indicated by arrow in the upper right corner of the map above). Established in 1965, Gir Forest has about 258 square kilometers of the fully protected area (the national park) and (1153 square kilometers for the sanctuary). So the only remaining wild lions in Asia enjoy full protection only when they stay within this relatively tiny region measuring only about 99 square miles, an area smaller than most U.S. counties. (See a map showing the Kathiawar Peninsula and the location of Gir Forest N.P.)
Lions generally live about 12 to 14 years in the wild, but they usually live longer in captivity, often more than 20 years.
A lion-tiger hybrid
A lion-leopard hybrid
An ape-human hybrid?