Why are lions the king of the jungle and not any other animal? This is a common question in many people’s minds, considering that the lion is not even the biggest animal in the wild. Also, it rarely lives in the jungle but rather in the savannah and grasslands. Read on to find out.
We have all heard the saying that the lion is the king of the jungle. But is he really the king? For thousands of years, lions have taken all the credit for being the strongest, bravest, and fiercest animal in the wild. And, for the longest time, “King Lion” has dominated not only the wild but also human society.
For instance, most symbols of strength and power are represented by a lion’s image. Most governments even have lions representing their national emblems and coats of arms.
So, what makes this cat so special? Also, considering that they don’t even live in the jungle, why are lions the king of the jungle?
Well, we are just about to uncover all these and find out what animal is the king of the jungle. But first,
Table of Contents
- What is a Lion?
- Lion Species
- The African Lion
- Asiatic Lion
- Do Lions Live in the Jungle?
- Why are Lions the King of the Jungle? Top Reasons
- 1. Raw Power
- 2. Fearlessness and Courage
- 3. Leadership and Social Structure
- 4. The Mighty Roar
- 5. They are Feared
- King of the Jungle Stereotype
- What is Heraldry
- The Lion in Christianity
- Lions in Islam
- England’s Three Lions Emblem
- How Lions Compare to other Predators
- Are there Better Predators than Lions?
- Related Resources
What is a Lion?
A lion is a large, muscular cat that is usually tawny or sandy in color. Its fur is short and coarse, and its mane (the long hair around the head) is black. It has a long tail and sharp claws.
Lions are the second-largest big cats after tigers. I bet not many of us knew this! They can weigh up to 550 pounds (225 kg) and measure up to nine feet (three meters) in length.
Male lions are called “lions,” while females are called “lionesses.” Their young ones are called “cubs.” Lions are apex land predators. They occupy the highest trophic level in their environment, meaning that no animal hunts them.
These big cats eat meat and only meat. Their diet consists mainly of zebra, gazelles, wild pigs, wildebeest, buffalo, and sometimes giraffes. Generally, lions are social animals that live in pride. A pride consists of a group of related lionesses and their cubs. The pride might also include a few unrelated males, but there is always a dominant male or the king of that family.
Lionesses take the role of hunting and feeding the pride. On the other hand, the male’s job is to protect the pride from other male lions and predators. The males are known for their loud roars that can be heard up to five miles (eight kilometers) away.
They use this as a way to communicate with each other and also to warn off intruders in their territory. Lions mainly live in Africa and Asia.
Lion species are currently classified into two subspecies: The African lion (Panthera leo Leo) and the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo Persica). The African lion is found in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, the Asiatic lion is restricted to India’s Gir Forest National Park.
These two subspecies are different in appearance. The African lion has a more robust mane and darker color, while the Asiatic lion is relatively smaller and has a light golden color.
The African Lion
These lions live in Sub-Saharan Africa in only 27 countries. They are usually the largest cats in this region since there are no tigers here.
African lions have been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996. This is because their populations have declined by more than 30% in the last two decades. And, in the last century, their numbers have decreased by about 90%.
Currently, there are only around 20,000 lions in Africa, a number that continues to decrease with time. In fact, the lion is enlisted as a critically endangered species in West Africa.
The African lion has been used to symbolize strength and power in more instances than we can count. Their iconic bodies grace the covers of magazines, adorned logos of organizations, and are present in numerous paintings.
Many governments have also used these lion images on their coats of arms. This is a clear indication of how respected the lion is.
African Lion Habitat
In the past, the African lion species lived in most parts of Africa. However, due to human encroachment and habitat loss, they are now present in only a few areas.
They mostly live in woodlands, savannas, scrublands, and grasslands. And they avoid dense forests and deserts. Currently, the lion is only found in 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, having been extinct in 26 of them.
This lion subspecies lives in the Gir Forest National Park, located in Gujarat, India. They number around 400 individuals and also appear as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Asiatic lions are smaller than their African counterparts and have a light golden color. According to National Geographic, it’s believed that these lions split from the African lion somewhere around 100,000 ago.
Unfortunately, these lions almost went extinct. Due to human activities and hunting, their numbers decreased to as low as 20 in the early 1990s. Thankfully, conservation efforts have increased their population to around 400 individuals now.
Asiatic Lion Habitat
The Asiatic lion lives in a forested area known as the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India. This is the only place where they are currently found. The park covers an area of about 600 square kilometers.
The lion’s habitat is mostly made up of dry deciduous forests, but there are also areas of thorny scrub and grasslands. The park is open to the public from October to June. Outside of this time, it’s closed due to monsoon rains.
Do Lions Live in the Jungle?
You’ll rarely find lions living in the jungle. And that’s the reason why some people and scholars regard lions as the pretender king of the jungle.
As we have said severally, lions mostly live in grasslands, savannas, and scrublands. And while there are some forests in their habitat, these aren’t dense forests like the jungle.
The term “jungle” refers to a dense forest with lots of trees and vegetation. And this type of habitat is present in tropical areas.
In Africa, lions live in the savannah, which is grassland with some trees. This type of ecosystem is found in the tropical or subtropical regions of the continent.
As for the Asiatic lion, their main habitat is in the Gir Forest National Park, India. And while this park has some forested areas, it’s far from being a jungle.
The only place where lions live in a jungle is the Kafa Reserve. This is a forest reserve in Ethiopia, where lions and other animals live. It’s the only densely forested region that’s a natural habitat for lions.
In fact, to confirm whether truly there are lions in the Kafa Biosphere reserve, NABU mandated Bruno D’Amics, an experienced lion researcher and photographer, to survey the area in 2012.
During the research, lions were discovered living in a rainforest as permanent residents for the first time.
So, why are lions king of the jungle when they rarely live in jungles?
Let’s explore this assumption;
Why are Lions the King of the Jungle? Top Reasons
There are a few reasons why lions take the king of the jungle title. Some of the main ones include:
1. Raw Power
There is no doubt that lions are impressively strong. These beasts can take down almost any animal in the wild when they want.
A lion weighs around 330 pounds, which is quite large. And when it charges at an animal, its speed and force are unmatched. Lions will reach top speeds of up to 50 mph when pursuing prey.
Also, it exerts around 650 psi bite force and can comfortably lift around 2,300 pounds. And that’s not all! A lion’s paw swipe is one of the strongest, delivering a force of around 400 lbs.
Now, that’s quite strong.
This raw strength gives lions a clear advantage over other animals in the wild. They don’t have to worry about being preyed on by other predators. In fact, lions don’t have natural enemies, except hyenas which mostly prey on their cubs.
2. Fearlessness and Courage
Lions do not fear any animal in the wild. While it’s certainly not the largest animal, it bravely is incredible.
This aspect allows the lion to hunt almost every animal in its habitat. It can hunt small prey like gazelles, average ones like zebras and wildebeests, or even larger ones like buffalos and giraffes.
Generally, lions hunt in groups known as the pride. The pride is usually made up of around 15 lions, though there can be more or fewer. The hunting squad mainly comprises female lions (lionesses), who are like the pride’s breadwinners.
The size and strength of the lion give it a clear upper hand over most prey it goes after. And since these animals hunt as a group, they become even more fearless.
3. Leadership and Social Structure
Unlike many other animals, lions are pretty social animals. They can live in pride of up to thirty individuals. But within the pride, there is a clear social hierarchy, with one dominant lion as the king of the pride.
This leadership and social structure give lions an edge over other animals. It ensures that the group works together to take down prey and survive in the wild.
The male lion maintains order and offers security for the pride. While the females perfect their hunting skills, the male lazes behind. It acts as the source of protection for the group, ensuring the pride’s continuity.
The alpha male will fight any male that tries to take over his pride. And if a new male does manage to take over, he will kill all the cubs in the pride. This allows him to mate with the females and produce his own cubs.
Infant killings are quite common with several other animals. It is among the cruelest acts against other animals. However, lions will always try to create a new generation to maintain their bloodlines.
4. The Mighty Roar
A lion’s roar is the loudest among all the cats. It’s pretty loud, such that it can reach up to 114 decibels. When a lion roars, you can hear the roar even if you are 5 miles away. This is one aspect that helps it instill fear in other animals.
The lion’s roar is that loud because it has a unique larynx and hyoid apparatus. This allows the animal to make a much louder sound than other animals.
The roar can also help it communicate with other lions over long distances. That way, if a group of lions is hunting and one of the members gets lost, the other lions can follow the sound of its roar to find it.
Such a roar can make a human go deaf if the lion roars near your ears.
See Related: Do Lions Eat Cheetahs? Here’s What to Know
5. They are Feared
Lions are among the most feared animals in the wild. And, being an apex predator, this means that it usually has no natural enemies. In other words, no animal hunts lions.
The only predator that dares to joke with lions is the hyena. And this is because hyenas also hunt in big groups of around 20 individuals.
Hyenas will kill and eat lion cubs if they come across them. Also, they will sometimes snatch prey from lions, which usually results in deadly fights. However, they can only do so if they outnumber the lions.
This fear factor gives lions an edge over other animals in the wild. And it ensures that they have less competition for food.
King of the Jungle Stereotype
The lion’s “King of the Jungle” title has been there for ages. Even ancient kings and rulers were often compared to lions for their bravery, strength, and power.
This notion made the lion’s symbol become popular in heraldry, coats of arms, and even flags. Currently, the lion is considered the national animal of several countries like Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, England, and Singapore. Generally, a lion symbolizes strength, courage, nobility, bravely, and stateliness.
In traditional and religious writings such as the bible, a lion appears with quite a regal status. For instance, the “Lion of Judah” is a popular phrase in Judaism and Christianity. The symbol of this revered beast is even present in Jerusalem’s coats of arms as a sign of strength and royalty.
The fact that lions appear as brave in so many traditional writing, publications, movies, and folklore, has contributed to this “lion king” title. And while they might not actually live in the jungle, not many animals can compare to their might and power.
This way, when anyone thinks of an animal figure to represent the traits mentioned above, a lion always comes to mind.
What is Heraldry
Heraldry is the practice involving the design, display, description, and recording of heraldic badges and coats of arms. Usually, this job is conducted by the officers of arms (heralds, kings of arms, and pursuivants) in one or more jurisdictions.
Coats of arms are traditionally unique to persons, families, states, organizations, or corporations.
Heraldic designs may appear on flags, shields, surcoats, and other items of clothing worn by military units and individuals. Heraldry is also used to adorn architectural features such as gates and doors.
Lions have been featured in heraldry for centuries and continue to be one of the most popular designs. They often appear as a symbol of strength, royalty, and nobility.
The Lion in Christianity
A lion in Christianity mostly symbolizes Christ. The book of revelation even refers to Jesus as the Lion of Judah in Revelation 5:5.
This has popularized these animals as Christianity is the largest religion in the world. There are lion images and symbols throughout Christian churches, religious buildings, art, and literature.
And, since Christians regard Jesus as the king of kings or lord of lords, the only animal symbol that befits him is the lion. The king of the beasts thus attracts the king of the jungle title.
Lions in Islam
Lions also have a place in Islam. Here, a lion still appears as a feared animal. The Quran mentions a lion when describing those who reject the message. It describes these people as donkeys running away from a lion.
In the modern world, these animals are still respected in the Islamic religion. For instance, several organizations have lions in their names. Some of these include;
- Mesopotamian Lions – Iraqi football team nickname
- Lions Mesopotamia – A private security firm in Iraq
- The Atlas Lions – Morocco national football team nickname
This is clear that animal is also quite respected in Muslim society.
England’s Three Lions Emblem
As mentioned earlier, a lion’s symbol has been used in many governments and organizations for centuries. One of the most popular examples is England’s three lions emblem.
The first recorded use of a lion on an English coat of arms was in 1154 by Henry II. He had a golden lion rampant (a heraldic term used to describe when an animal is shown standing with its right forepaw raised) in his coat of arms.
During the rule of Richard the Lionheart a hundred years later, the lion became more popular as a symbol for England. The ruler added two more lion figures to the coats of arms. It was often shown in art and literature with a shield bearing three lions passant guardant (another heraldic term meaning walking).
The popularity of the lion continued to grow, and it eventually became the national animal of England. The three lions emblem is still used today on official documents, coins, etc.
Currently, even the English Football Association uses the emblem as the official badge of England’s national football team. A lion and a rose is popular in England’s major sports organizations, including the premier league.
The three lions on a red background are also used as one of the Scottish Football Association’s crests.
How Lions Compare to other Predators
So, why are lions the king of the jungle? It’s mainly because of their ability to dominate their habitat.
For starters, lions are apex predators, being at the top of their habitats’ food chain. And, while hyenas and wild dogs will sometimes eat lion cubs, no animal hunts mature lions.
Other predators that compete for food with lions include leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. However, because of their size and strength, lions always outrank these other predators.
None of the said predators want to cross paths with lions, especially male lions. If this happens, lions will usually kill cheetahs, leopards, and even hyenas.
Their unmatched strength among their competitors gives lions the title of king of the jungle.
See Related: Are Humans Animals?
Are there Better Predators than Lions?
The wild is full of predators of all sizes. But are there bigger ones than the kings of the jungle? Well, the answer is yes. A tiger weighs more than a lion at full size. A full-grown tiger weighs even up to 800 pounds, but a lion only weighs around 550 lbs. While some tiger species are smaller than lions, two tiger species are bigger. These include;
- The Siberian tiger
- The Bengal tiger
Generally, while a lion might be big in stature, a tiger weighs much more. Additionally, a tiger has more fighting and hunting capabilities than a lion.
For instance, it has denser muscles, wider legs, and a lower center of gravity. It also has bigger and stronger paws and can leap higher when attacking.
Tigers also have strong, flexible hind legs, making them quite good at rearing. In contrast, lions are not made for rearing and usually use their teeth as the major weapon. In essence, if a tiger and a lion get in a ring, the tiger has a better chance of winning.
However, when it comes to hunting, lions do a better job. And since they also hunt in large groups, their hunts are more successful.
So, why is the lion the king of the jungle and not the tiger? Fearlessness and dominance are some of the key factors why a lion is considered king.
Also, tigers are more reserved and solitary hunters, having no prominent family structure. The social aspect of the lion’s family makes them stronger and invincible in the wild. It’s rare to see one lion on a hunting mission – they prefer working as a group.