Lion Habitat | Where do Lions Live?

The answer to the question “where do lions live” is much more diverse than one would expect. Not only is your average lion social and territorial, but it is also tolerant to a variety of environments. As such, the lion's natural habitat could be anything from a sparse desert to a mountaintop.

Big Cats Big Cats Nature
22 April 2022

The lion habitat is a surprisingly versatile concept. From forest and savanna to shrubland, grassland and desert, lions have called them all their home. Ironically, the one place one is unlikely to find the so-called king of the jungle is in a tropical rainforest, although even that is not unheard of.

As for mountains, lions have been spotted inhabiting elevations exceeding 13,000 feet. Whatever the natural habitat of a lion, they are extremely territorial, grouping into prides that occupy distinct areas.

In terms of geographic distribution, the scope is much narrower. Whilst lions once roamed vast swathes of the globe, the current list of countries with lions is staggeringly small.

Lions: Natural Habitat

Lions on top of the rock in Serengeti (Photo: Ozbalci via iStock)

From savanna, shrubland and grassland to forest and desert, there is no single lion natural habitat. In terms of elevation, they can be found as high up as 13,000 feet. In fact, the only places lions are not known to inhabit within Africa today are tropical rainforests and the interior of the Saharan desert.

Lion Habitat Requirements

A thirsty pride of Lions (Photo: BrettDurrant via iStock)

To call a place home, lions require easy access to three main components, namely food, shelter and water. As long as these are available within their territory, they are versatile creatures who will tolerate an impressive variety of vegetation and temperatures.

In general, lions prefer to live in areas of thick bush, scrub and grass, and open woodlands. These provide shade, and cover for both stalking prey and hiding cubs. The vast majority of lions in Africa today live in savannahs with an annual rainfall of between 30 and 150 cm.

These big cats prey primarily on medium to large ungulates like wildebeest, zebras and antelopes. But they will happily hunt smaller animals, even eating insects and can work together to take down larger ones, say elephants, especially if young or injured.

Ideally, lions will have access to a water source, both to drink and as a congregation place for their prey, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Lions can survive on very little water and, if necessary, can draw moisture from plants and prey.

Countries With Lions - Historical Range

Lions are second only to human beings in terms of their historic geographical range. The only continents where lions have never resided are Australia, Antarctica, and Oceania. As for countries with lions, these have spanned continents from northern Eurasia to Africa.

Up until 10,000 years ago, lions were found in countries in the Americas and northern Eurasia. They were also found in Europe until approximately 2,000 years ago, possibly even as late as 150 years ago. It was also about 150 years ago that most North African countries with lions saw them go extinct. Within the past 60 years, lions have become more at risk in general, and almost totally extinct north of the southern Sahara desert.

Lion Habitat Destruction

A lion lunching (Photo: diane39 via iStock)

Human activity has intensely exacerbated the historic and ongoing depletion of the lion’s natural habitat. Much of this is from residential and commercial development to facilitate the needs of growing populations. Climate change has affected rainfall, and the bushmeat trade has stripped areas of the lion’s natural prey.

Countries With Lions Today

Lion on the Prowl on the Serengeti in Tanzania, Africa (Photo: Andrew Turnbull via iStock)

Today, lions occupy approximately 638757 square miles, a mere 8% of the range they once did, and that figure is in steep decline. Lions are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ worldwide on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Africa

The vast majority of the world’s wild lions are found in Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa have lions, although the populations are small and isolated. The majority of African lions live in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe

India

Lions in India are almost entirely contained within the dry, deciduous forest of Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat. There has been some good news for the Asiatic lions of India however. Their numbers are on the rise, from 523 in 2015 to 674 in 2020. This 29% increase is more than mirrored in their distribution, which has increased by 36%. So, where once they spread over 8500 square miles, they now occupy closer to 12,000.

Where Do Lions Live? And Where Will They Live?

Despite the adaptable character of the natural habitat of a lion, the number of continents and countries with lions today has shrunk to catastrophically low levels.

Nowadays, most lions live in fenced or protected areas. However, there is a glimmer of hope offered by the success of Asiatic lions. There is therefore hope that this could be replicated elsewhere.

Already, many African nations have devised Lion Conservation Action Plans, the success of which will depend on funding and international willingness to act.

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