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How long do lions live?

By Vincent Kejitan | November 19th 2020
A lion in the Maasai Mara [Gardy Chacha, Standard]

“Olorpapit”, the oldest lion at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve died on Wednesday evening aged 16 years.

Described by wardens as one of the most dominant lions in the Mara, Olorpapit was loved by tourists, having ruled the Enkuiyani pride for the past 16 years.

For human beings, 16 years is the prime for adolescents who are often in school trying to chart a path for their lives but this is not the case for wild animals.

The lifespan of a lion

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the wild, lions live between 8-10 years due to attacks by humans or other lions. They also succumb to injuries due to kicks from intended prey.

However, in captivity, they may live for up to 25 years.

Wild lions reproduce approximately every two years and at sexual maturity, which occurs at around three years of age, some female lions remain with the pride while others may leave.

Male lions often leave the pride at three years. While lions in captivity may breed every year, their counterparts in the wild mate every two years or less frequently.

Did you know cubs are born blind?

Lionesses often leave their pride when they are about to give birth and they pick their cubs by the scruff of the neck.

The cub instinctively relaxes its muscles and allows the mother to move it. They are often hidden for a month or two before being introduced to the rest of the pride.

According to the African Wildlife Detective, cubs open their eyes between 3-11 days after birth and start walking after about two weeks.

They also start eating meat after about three months.

Male lions rarely help in raising cubs

African male lions generally play no paternal role when it comes to provision of food to the cubs.

After two years, lion cubs will be driven away from the pride by their father.  While this may seem cruel, this is a very important instinct that ensures the father eliminates competition. This action prevents inbreeding in the pride.

The responsibility for training them to hunt is also that of the mother. Male lions will however protect lion babies from danger.


Lions mainly live in grasslands, scrubs, and woodlands and often exist in prides that are protected by males. One pride might range from two to 40 lions and while the males mark their territories with urine, warding off intruders, the females are tasked with hunting.

Lions in Africa

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya (WWF-Kenya), a locally registered non-governmental conservation organisation, the lion population in Africa is estimated to have declined by 43% in the past 20 years; with roughly 20,000 lions only believed to be roaming the entire continent. The following were identified as key contributors to lion population decline:

  • Habitat loss and degradation
  • Reduction in prey base 
  • Human lion conflict 
  • Lack of incentives for the communities to tolerate lions leading to a negative perception of lions and lack of support for their conservation.
  • Ineffective lion population management.
  • Emerging illegal trade in lion bones and other body parts for traditional medicine and lion trophies.
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