What are the Different Lion Species?

Vanessa Harvey

The different lion species include African, Asiatic, American, mountain, cave and white lions. These classifications, however, are points of contention among many paleontologists and zoologists because of findings and conclusions that have resulted from the study of the remains and genetic makeup of these mammals. This list includes extinct lion species as well as the various endangered lions. Some lion species are extinct in the wild but still exist in captivity.

The African lion feeds on buffalo and other game.
The African lion feeds on buffalo and other game.

Africa is the natural habitat for the African lion, a large carnivore that roams the open plains and woodlands of the continent and feeds primarily on animals of the deer family, pigs, buffalo and small game. Males can grow to reach a length of 4 feet (1.2 meters) or more and an approximate weight of 350 pounds (159 kg). The cape lion, which once inhabited the Cape of the African continent and South Africa, has been extinct since the 1800s. Barbary lions, a lion species that is extinct in the wild, inhabited the Atlas Mountains of northern Africa and roamed the lands of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

A species known as cave lions is extinct, but cave drawings show them hunting together, as pride lionesses do.
A species known as cave lions is extinct, but cave drawings show them hunting together, as pride lionesses do.

Asiatic or Asian lions are critically endangered and are almost completely restricted to forests in Gujarat, India, where they live under state protection in the hope that their population will not disappear from the wild. It is for this reason that they have come to be called the Indian lion species, although they once were known as Persian lions when they roamed from the Mediterranean to the nation of India. These animals generally are smaller than their African counterparts, grow shorter manes and have other characteristics that distinguish them from the lions of Africa.

Although wild white lions once inhabited the Timbavati region of Africa. This lion species sometimes is considered separate from African species because Timbavati was the only region of the continent that they inhabited. White lions, which range in color from tawny to white, were declared extinct in the wild in 1994.

Mountain lions, also known as cougars, panthers, catamounts, pumas or simply lions, once roamed a large range of the western parts of Canada, a large area of the United States from coast to coast and Argentina. They dwelt in the canyons, foothills and woodlands of these regions, feeding mainly on animals of the deer family. This lion species is endangered and on the brink of extinction in the eastern United States, and their population has been significantly lowered in western territories.

According to some scientists, the American lion might not be a true member of the genus Panthera leo or lion family. It once inhabited the land of present day Canada and the United States, where fossils have been found. Some paleontologists maintain that while the American lion does share traits with modern lions and tigers, it is is more closely related to the jaguar.

Cave lions, which probably did not actually live in caves, also are extinct, but cave drawings provide some depiction of what they looked like and some idea of their behavior, such as hunting in groups. Although cooperative hunting is characteristic of lionesses, also called she-lions, some scientists disagree with categorizing the cave lion as a lion. Those who reject such a classification believe that the animal was more closely related to the tiger.

Asian lions are critically endangered and almost completely restricted to forests in Gujarat, India.
Asian lions are critically endangered and almost completely restricted to forests in Gujarat, India.

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Discussion Comments


@bear78-- I read that there are eight subspecies now. Several subspecies became extinct in the late 1800s or early 1900s due to excessive hunting which is sad. For example, the Barbary lions lived in North Africa and out-populated other African lions at one time. They're extinct now due to hunting, they were last seen in the early 1900s.


@literally45-- Actually domestic cats are not included in this category. There are two main subgroups of cats: Pantherinae and Felinae. Lions belong to the former subgroup while domestic cats belong to the latter subgroup. So pet cats are not a lion species. As far as I know, domestic cats are most closely associated with cheetahs.

The Pantherinae subgroup includes tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Each have their own subspecies. Scientists believe that there are twelve subspecies of lions but I think that there may be more or less.


Which lion species do pet cats belong to?

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