Lions, the kings and queens of the jungle, are one of the most recognizable animals on the planet. These large felines have muscular bodies, round heads and ears, and long tails with a tuft of hair at the end. Of course, male lions also sport their signature mane and are generally larger than females, also known as lionesses.
They live in prides mostly comprised of females and cubs, with relatively few males. The females handle the bulk of the hunting duties.
Lions are apex predators, meaning they’re at the top of the food chain. Humans are lions’ only natural threat, and lions are presently considered a “threatened” species due to human activities.
What is the Average Life Span of a Lion?
So, how long do lions live? In the wild, a lion’s average lifespan is about 10-15 years. However, male lions typically have a shorter lifespan than lionesses. Males live for 8-12 years while females have a lifespan of 10-15 years.
Because lions are apex predators, they aren’t threatened by any other animals, but the abundance of food and fights with other lions can have a dramatic effect on a lion’s life expectancy.
This is especially true for male lions, who use their physical fitness to dominate their pride. When a male lion ages, his power is challenged by other, younger lions. The younger lions usually prove stronger, and the older male is cast out from the pride. Without the support of the pride, the lion struggles.
Males also leave their birth pride in an effort to create their own. Many lions aren’t successful, which leads to an early death.
Occasionally, a male lion will also fight lions from other prides in order to grow his pride’s territory. These conflicts often prove fatal for the loser.
On the other hand, female lions don’t leave their birth pride and don’t feud with other lions for territory. This leads to a longer life expectancy on average.
Lifespan in Captivity
Lions do quite well in captivity and live for about 20 years on average. Zenda, a lioness at the Philadelphia Zoo, lived until she was 25. When she passed, she was the oldest lion on record.
Regular access to high-quality food and being insulated from regional conflicts contribute to their higher life expectancy in captivity.
The Lion’s Life Cycle
The life cycle of a typical lion is similar to other members of the “Big Cat” family.
Birth and Infancy
When a lion cub is born, the cub is helpless and blind. Newborn cubs only weigh 2-4 pounds and take 3 days to learn how to crawl. It remains in its den near to its mother for up to 3 weeks, when it starts to walk.
Lion cubs are especially vulnerable to other predators like hyenas. In order to keep her cubs safe, a mother lioness moves her cubs to a new den location every couple of days.
Introduction to the Pride
After a few weeks, the lion cub is ready to join the rest of the pride. Cubs are typically shy at first, but soon develop bonds with the members of pride through play.
At this stage of life, a cub is still not ready to eat meat like an adult lion. Cubs still need to be nursed, though once the cub joins the pride, any female can nurse a cub.
Cubs need to be sheltered from attacks from competing lions, as insurgent males will attempt to take over the pride. These males typically kill all cubs, and the mother will fight to the death to protect her cubs.
At the 2-3 month mark, a lion is ready to eat meat. By now, they’ve also learned how to run and are ready to learn how to hunt.
After 6 months, a lioness is ready to join her mother and the rest of the hunting party. Though they still need their mother and pride for support, they’re well on their way to becoming a full-fledged member of the pride.
At around 18 months, young male cubs leave their pride and live as nomads until they reach sexual maturity. Lionesses may also leave their pride in search of a mate, but it’s less common.
Reproduction and Finding a New Pride
Male lions reach sexual maturity at 3 years old and seek to build their pride. They do this by challenging the leaders of existing prides. If they are victorious, the pride and surviving females become his pride.
Lions mate frequently while in heat, which is only about 4 days at a time. Pregnancy in lions lasts for around 100-120 days. When it’s time to give birth, a lioness separates herself from the pride and secludes herself in her den. Litters range between 1-6 cubs.