Which lion am I seeing on safari?

The lion – Panthera Leo, highly sought after by safari goers, preferably in the throes of making a kill; the big beige guy with the black shaggy mane – you know the one. What you might not have known is that there are several different sub types of lion, and not all of them live in Africa.

One of the two main types is a tiny population found only in Gujarat India, this being the highly endangered Asiatic lion. Not the subject of our blog today, but a useful tidbit of information that could impress your fellow safari-goers.

The remainder of the species lives in Africa, and comprises 7 types. Learn these before you start your overland safari, and you will be the envy of all on board. And it’s simpler than you think, working by process of exclusion.

1. The Barbary Lion – North African lion – Paththera Leo Leo
This lion is sadly extinct in the wild, albeit surely a great relief for locals, being one of the largest sub-species. It was previously found in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. This guy wins the award for most impressive mane, size and general presence. Not on the list of sighting possibilities.

2. The Senegal lion – West African lion – Panthera Leo Senegalensis
This lion too is critically endangered and inhabits from the Central Africa Republic to Senegal. It’s among the smallest of the sub-species, and is not a candidate on any of our safaris.

3. The Ethiopian Lion – East African Lion – Panthera Leo Roosevelti
This one is particularly sad because this lion mostly lives in captivity in the Addis Ababa zoo. These beautiful creatures have a darker mane and smaller body compared to other lions. Another one we won’t be seeing on safari.

4. The Congo Lion – Uganda Lion – Panthera Leo Azandica
This lion is now extinct in Rwanda, but you can still find protected populations in the Virunga National Park of the DRC and in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. In the latter park they are said to climb trees – something we ourselves are yet to witness but we hear it is amazing! These guys can potentially be seen on the longer safaris.

5. The Katanga Lion – Southwest African Lion – Panthera Leo Bleyenberghi
The Southwest African lion is one of the largest – the males can weigh around 140 to 242kg and the female 105 to 170kg! These lions are found in Angola, Zaire, Western Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and northern Botswana. You will notice (of course you will!) that they have a lighter-coloured mane than the other subspecies. These lions are an imminent sighting possibility in Chobe and Etosha National Parks.

6. The Masai Lion – East African Lion – Panthera Leo Nubica
These types of lions are found in the east – Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania. The Masai lion has longer legs and a less curved back than the other subspecies. The manes of these lions seemed to be combed backwards. We reckon this is probably the sub species found in the Timotei shampoo ad. Worth knowing about them just for that reason. Another solid sighting possibility on one of our east-African safaris.

7. The Kalahari Lion – Southeast African Lion – Panthera Leo Krugeri
Also known as the Transvaal lion and found in the southern parts of Africa – most notably (reasonably enough), in the Kalahari.
This lion is also found in Kruger National Park and the Swaziland Hlane Royal National Park. You are absolutely guaranteed a sighting – and you can hold us to it – if you take a game drive in the Hlane section of our 14 day Swaziland, Kruger and Mozambique tour.
Kalahari Lion males can weigh between 150 to 250kg and mostly have a well-developed black mane. Having said that, we once saw a guy with a seriously patchy head who looked like he was balding, hanging out under a tree in the southern part of the Kalahari in Namibia. The tour guide said it would seem like he was ugly but that is just the way these Kalahari lions can be. Shame.

So there it is. If you want a guaranteed lion sighting, take a game drive on one of our Hlane-inclusive tours. Otherwise check out our ever-growing list of overland safaris, or you can search using the country links in each lion type above.

As a final point of interest, the White Lion is not a sub species as such, but a genetic colour-mutation.

Happy lion spotting travelers!