In the world of big cats, lions are second in size only to tigers. However, the biggest lions in the world may not be the most successful hunters. Lions are built compact, powerful and lean, making them swift, agile and able to attack in short, sharp bursts. They have the highest muscle percentage of any mammal, allowing them to overpower everything from impala and zebras to even the occasional elephant or giraffe.
Biggest Lions In The World Today
The biggest lion species in the world today – or subspecies if we’re getting technical – are found in sub-Saharan Africa. Male lions found in this region can grow to between 1.8 and 2.5 metres in length. And that’s just the head and torso. Add a further metre or so for the tail. Their shoulder height is around 1.23 metres and they weigh anything from 150 to 225kg. Lionesses are smaller. The largest female lions in the world are usually around 1.9 metres long, 1.1 metres tall and weigh around 190kg.
The World's Biggest Lion
When measuring the world’s biggest lion, there’s a debate on whether to go by height, length or weight.
In 2009, the Handbook of the Mammals of the World (Wilson and Mittermeier) stated that the record length for a male lion was 3.3 metres. The enormous cat who set this record was seen in Kenya and was said to weigh 270kg.
The Guiness World Book of Records seems to go by shoulder height. It lists the biggest lion in captivity as a black-maned male named Simba. In 1970, while living in an Essex zoo, Simba’s shoulder height was measured at 1.11 metres.
The largest living cat today is Hercules, an adult male at Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, USA. With a shoulder height of 1.25 metres, Hercules is only part-lion. He is a liger, a lion / tigress hybrid. So does the liger count as the biggest lion species? Not by scientific taxonomy standards, but maybe in spirit. Another question is whether Herc is even the biggest of his kind. His brother Simba is actually taller, but weighs less. We’ll leave that to the experts.
The Biggest Lion Species In The World - Ever?
Lions today occupy just 8% of the geographical areas they once did. What’s more, the variety of lion species and subspecies has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was.
There is currently only one extant species of lion, namely Panthera leo, and its habitats are limited to areas of Africa and one conservation park in Gujarat,India.
It’s no surprise therefore to find that the biggest Lion species to have ever lived is no longer around. This is believed to have been the American lion, Panthera leo atrox. Sometimes known as the American Cave Lion, Panthera leo atrox is estimated to have been approximately 25% larger than modern lions and to weigh around an incredible 350kg. It became extinct some 11,000 years ago
A more recent archaeological find points to the possibility that prehistoric lions were not just big, but giant. In 2018, a partial skull of a lion believed to have lived some 200,000 years ago was found in Natodomeri, northwest Kenya. It indicated that the biggest Lion ever may have had a shoulder height as tall as a human. You probably wouldn’t want to find yourself face-to-face with that particular cat.
Large but Agile
Science is just beginning to scratch the surface of lion species that existed in the past. However we know that even the biggest Lion species in the world today would have been dwarfed by those of prehistory. Having said that, when it comes to lions, smaller may be better. These apex predators are built for speed and agility, qualities that allow them to reign at the top of the animal food chain.
How do you measure a lion? At London Zoo,the keepers place some meat up a tree. When the lions reach up to get it, they’re measured using a giant ruler ready for the purpose.