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How To Age Lions

Why age lions?

Ageing a lion allows us to identify it and assess its role within the population. Lions are difficult to age exactly, so we use broad categories. We use body size, nose colour, mane size and coat condition to age a lion. There is great variation, and so we need to consider several features to estimate age correctly.


Cubs are hidden away until they are several weeks old, and have a very woolly, spotted coat for the first five months. Cubs can be aged easily on their size alone, and reach only halfway up their mother's shoulder when they are 12 months of age. Males of this age may also show the first signs of a mane. You can age cubs more accurately by comparing their height against their mother.


Sub Adults

Between the age of 2 and 3, lions are classed as sub-adults. Lions between the age of 1 and 2 may be cubs or sub-adults, depending on their personal development.

Sub-adults begin to resemble adult lions. At 2 years old, females are about three-quarters the size of their mothers, but males can be bigger. Males will have a small, mohawk mane. By age 3, both are fully grown. Males will soon leave their natal pride; females will remain.

  • Haven't reached maturity, remain in natal pride
  • Usually smaller than adults
  • Small manes
  • Pink noses, narrow head and 'cub-like' expression


Adult lions are between 3 and 8 years old. They are fully grown and are of breeding age - females will often have cubs.

Adult males are in their prime. A male's mane will grow - adult males mostly have medium or large manes. Adult lions will lose their cub-like expression and possibly the spotting on their legs and belly. They often have torn ears, scars and yellow teeth.

  • Fully grown, females producing cubs
  • Males are in their prime and often have their own pride
  • Noses usually spotted, medium or large manes

Old Adults (over 8 years)

Old lions are large and stocky, and males have large, impressive manes. They have yellow, worn or broken teeth, and may have dull fur, many scars and tattered ears.

As females get older, their head broadens. Females will be experienced hunters, and will have produces several litters of cubs. Males rarely reach 12 years of age, but females can live up to 19 years old if they have the support of the pride.

  • Bulky bodies, broad heads
  • Large manes, nose black or mostly black
  • Dull fur, torn ears, scars,  worn or broken yellow teeth

Click here for Noses and Manes

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