Extinct Lions

Lions have long symbolized majesty and courage, but these traits made them targets for exploitation, leading to the extinction of several species. These big cats once roamed far beyond the African savannah. Species like the Cave and Mosbach Lions were common across prehistoric Eurasia and North America. They were even apex predators in their habitats.

Overhunting by humans is a key reason several lions went extinct, as the two often competed over resources like food and territory. The lions’ skins and manes were sometimes even kept as trophies. In addition to this, climate and environmental changes have also contributed to the decline in lion populations, especially throughout Eurasia.

Extinct Lions

List of Lions That Went Extinct

NameCharacteristicsWhere Did It LiveWhen Did It Become ExtinctReason for Extinction
Barbary Lion ( Panthera leo leo)1. Large size and dark manes (though these features have been exaggerated over time)
2. Physically similar to the Asiatic Lion
3. Primarily hunted the Barbary Stag and other gazelles
4. Attacked livestock if food was scarce, leading to conflict with humans
The Maghreb region of North Africa (from Morocco to Egypt)Probably around 1958Hunting by humans, especially after bombs and firearms spread in the region  
American Cave Lion (Panthera atrox)1. Around 25% larger than the modern lion
2. Hunted and fed on ungulates like pronghorns
3. Lived in open areas like savannas and grasslands
North AmericaPleistocene epoch (approximately from 340,000 to 12,800 years ago)Hunting by humans
Cape Lion (Panthera leo melanochaita)1. Dark mane and black-edged ears
2. Hunted large ungulates like antelopes and buffaloes
3. Came into conflict with humans for attacking livestock like donkeys
South Africa, most notably the Karoo Plains and the Northern Cape The last known specimen was killed in 1858Overhunting and loss of habitat as a byproduct of the arrival of European colonizers
Mosbach Lion (Panthera fossilis1. Larger than modern lions
2. Most likely one of the largest members of the genus Panthera
EurasiaMiddle to Early Pleistocene (2.5 to 0.7 million years ago)Competition from other predators like cave bears, cave hyenas, and smilodons over limited food sources and an inability to adapt to changes in their environment
Cave Lion (Panthera spelaea1. While generally larger, males appeared to lack large manes like modern lions
2. Adapted to living in colder environments, like mammoth steppe and boreal forests
3. Primarily targeted reindeer but also hunted aurochs, steppe bison, and even juvenile mammoths
Western Europe to North America About 13,000 years agoStruggled to adapt as its habitat changed from wide open spaces to regions covered with vegetation like shrubs and trees
Sri Lanka Lion (Panthera leo sinhaleyus)1. While it appears to have had a narrower body structure, little else is known about this sub-speciesSri Lanka About 37,000 years agoUnclear

While the only extant lion species (Panthera leo) is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN, its overall population is also in decline. Lions living in Asia are limited to a single location on the entire continent — the Gir National Park in India. While the African population can be found over a wider range, the number of lions left has dropped drastically. Estimates assume there are only 16,500-47,000 lions left in Africa.