The African lion (Panthera leo) is the largest African cat and the only feline that is social living in prides that average twelve individuals, but may reach more than thirty. Across their African range lions have declined alarmingly over the last several decades especially in west, but also east Africa. In southern Africa lions are largely stable and have increased with the inclusion of large conservancies in Zimbabwe and over 45 smaller reserves in South Africa. However, it is unlikely that more than about 30 000 wild lions currently exist.
Lions were extirpated from most of their range in South Africa by the 1900s, with historic populations remaining in only Kruger National and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Parks. Today just over 2 300 wild lions are well protected in these and other large national parks and game reserves, with all populations either stable or increasing. Over the last three decades lions have also been re-introduced into over 45 smaller reserves with a total population of what are termed the ‘managed wild’ lions of about 800 individuals. The management of these lions is challenging, with high growth rates necessitating appropriate population regulation, and the potential for inbreeding due to isolation and small population size in the respective reserves. There are approximately 6 000 captive lions in South Africa bred for a variety of economic purposes.