Where the lions live, except in the movies

Photo: pixabay.com

Lions occur throughout that region, except in the equatorial rain forest and in the heavily populated regions along the southern coast of the western portion of the continent (see map above).

But these large predators do not easily coexist with humans, and as human populations increase, lion populations decline. Due to poisoning and hunting by livestock owners, they are now rare outside protected areas, and their distribution is highly fragmented. Many lions in eastern Africa are also being lost to canine distemper. The last wild lion in Africa north of the Sahara was shot in Morocco in 1920.

Where do lions live outside Africa?

Photo: pixabay.com

Lions were once far more widespread than they are today. In historic times they were found throughout much of southern Eurasia (map of the lion’s former range). Anciently, they were also present in Greece and the Balkan Peninsula. For example, they are mentioned repeatedly in the Iliad. Prehistorically, they were distributed even more widely. Their fossils are known from Germany, Italy, northern Asia, and even North America. From Turkey to India, they were common even as late as 1850. And it’s likely that in the Middle East in prehistoric times, they formed a hybrid zone with tigers, with which they easily cross.

Only a small, population of about 250 individuals survives, all either in western India’s Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Sasan-Gir, or in nearby areas on the Kathiawar Peninsula (indicated by arrow in the upper right corner of the map above). Established in 1965, Gir Forest has about 258 square kilometers of fully protected area (national park) and 1153 square kilometers of sanctuary. So the only remaining wild lions in Asia enjoy full protection only when they stay within a relatively tiny region measuring only about 99 square miles, an area smaller than most U.S. counties. (Map showing the Kathiawar Peninsula and the location of Gir Forest N.P. >>)

Lions generally live about 12 to 14 years in the wild, but usually longer in captivity, often more than 20 years.

Clearly, the lion was formerly far more widespread than it is today. Now, even in sub-Saharan Africa, the lion’s range is highly fragmented. The present distribution as shown here is based on a map created by the African Lion Environmental Research Trust

North of the Sahara, there are no lions today except in zoos, with the exception of a tiny population of wild lions in western India. The Asiatic lion, also known as the Indian lion or Persian lion, was once widespread in much of southwestern Asia. It now clings to existence as a single population in India’s Gujarat state. On the map, look closely and you can see a small green dot showing the location of these last few individuals in Gir Forest National Park. Though still minuscule in comparison with days of old, during recent decades. From a low of 180 individuals in 1974, it had more than doubled to 411 (97 adult males, 162 adult females, 75 sub-adults, and 77 cubs) as of April 2010. The Asiatic lion is listed as endangered by the IUCN.

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