The Lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera and a member of the family Felidae. It is the second-largest living cat after the Tiger. The lion is a vulnerable species, having seen a major population decline in its African range of 30–50% per two decades during the second half of the 20th century. Lion populations are untenable outside designated reserves and national parks. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are currently the greatest causes of concern. Within Africa, the West African lion population is particularly endangered.
Behind only the tiger, the lion is the second largest living felid in length and weight. Its skull is very similar to that of the tiger, although the frontal region is usually more depressed and flattened, with a slightly shorter postorbital region. The lion's skull has broader nasal openings than the tiger, however, due to the amount of skull variation in the two species, usually, only the structure of the lower jaw can be used as a reliable indicator of species. Lion coloration varies from light buff to yellowish, reddish, or dark ochraceous brown. The underparts are generally lighter and the tail tuft is black. Lion cubs are born with brown rosettes (spots) on their body, rather like those of a leopard. Although these fade as lions reach adulthood, faint spots often may still be seen on the legs and underparts, particularly on lionesses.
The mane of the adult male lion, unique among cats, is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the species. It makes the lion appear larger, providing an excellent intimidation display; this aids the lion during confrontations with other lions and with the species' chief competitor in Africa, the spotted hyena.
Lions spend much of their time resting and are inactive for about 20 hours per day. Although lions can be active at any time, their activity generally peaks after dusk with a period of socializing, grooming, and defecating. Intermittent bursts of activity follow through the night hours until dawn, when hunting most often takes place. They spend an average of two hours a day walking and 50 minutes eating.
Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild felids, most of which remain quite solitary in nature.The lion is a predatory carnivore with two types of social organization. Some lions are residents, living in groups centering around related lionesses, called prides. Females form the stable social unit in a pride and do not tolerate outside females; membership only changes with the births and deaths of lionesses,although some females do leave and become nomadic.
The prey consists mainly of medium-sized mammals, with a preference for wildebeest, zebras, buffalo, and warthogs in Africa and nilgai, wild boar, and several deer species in India. Many other species are hunted, based on availability. Mainly this will include ungulates weighing between 50 and 300 kg (110 and 660 lb) such as kudu, hartebeest, gemsbok, and eland. Occasionally, they take relatively small species such as Thomson's gazelle or springbok.
Lions also attack domestic livestock; in India cattle contribute significantly to their diet. Lions are capable of killing other predators such as leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs, though (unlike most felids) they seldom devour the competitors after killing them. They also scavenge animals either dead from natural causes (disease) or killed by other predators, and keep a constant lookout for circling vultures, being keenly aware that they indicate an animal dead or in distress.
In Africa, lions can be found in savanna grasslands with scattered Acacia trees which serve as shade; their habitat in India is a mixture of dry savanna forest and very dry deciduous scrub forest. The habitat of lions originally spanned the southern parts of Eurasia, ranging from Greece to India, and most of Africa except the central rainforest-zone and the Sahara desert.