What Was the Largest Lion Ever Kept in a Zoo?

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: August 31, 2023
© Gunther Allen/Shutterstock.com
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Known as the King of the Jungle, the lion is one of the largest land mammals in the world. Whether you’re watching them at the zoo or on the silver screen, there is no doubt that they’re fascinating. However, do you know the largest lion ever kept in a zoo?

If you don’t, no worries. We’ll introduce you to him as well as many other supersized lions. Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in!

The Average Lion

Before you learn more about some of the largest lions, it’s important to know just how big the average lion is. This helps you see just how big some of these lions below are compared to those you may encounter in the wild or at a zoo

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The average lion is 6 to 7 feet long and around 4 feet tall at the shoulder. As for their weight, they’re not as heavy as you might think. Lions tend to weigh less than 500 pounds, with females reaching a maximum weight of 280 and males with a maximum weight of 420.

Lion roaring
The average male lion is 6 to 7 feet long and 4 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs no more than 420 pounds.

©iStock.com/undefined undefined

The Largest Lion Ever Kept in a Zoo

If you were to visit Ireland around 1959, you would be able to see the largest lion ever kept in a zoo. Found in the Dublin Zoo, this lion weighed in at 827 pounds. That’s more than the tire off of a monster truck! This supersized lion was also quite long, coming in at around 10 feet long.

Because of his size, this lion is considered the largest lion ever kept in a zoo. He also happens to be one of the largest lions ever, both in the wild and in captivity. 

The Largest Living Lion Recorded in Captivity

While few lions have managed to reach the size of the largest lion ever kept in a zoo, supersized lions are not a thing of the past. In fact, even today, you can find exceptionally large lions. 

The current largest living lion is named Hercules. You can find him on the east coast of the United States at the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. However, he’s not your average lion.

Hercules is actually a hybrid known as a liger. These animals are the product of a male lion breeding with a female tiger. If a female lion breeds with a male tiger, their offspring is known as a tigon. Unlike many other animal crosses, ligers and tigons are not sterile. As a lion x tiger hybrid, Hercules can still claim his spot as the largest living lion ever kept in a zoo. 

Hercules measures 4.1 feet at the shoulder. He weighs as much as 920 pounds – almost half a ton! That’s the same as some grizzly bears

liger (Panthera leo × Panthera tigris)
Ligers like this one are significantly larger than either of their parents due to “growth dysplasia,” a condition resulting from the lack of certain growth-limiting genes.  


Other Supersized Lions

Now that you’ve met some of the largest lions in captivity, it’s time to meet some of them in the wild. There are actually several species of lions, not all of them still living (extant). You’ll be able to meet the largest of both worlds below, both living and extinct lions

Largest Wild Lion

The largest lion in the world was shot in 1936 in South Africa. Although this has been nearly a century ago, we have still yet to find a lion larger than this one. After its death, this lion weighed in at 690 pounds. This is nearly double the average maximum size!

Largest Extinct Lion

The lions of the past were not quite the same as the lions we know and love today.

When you think of lions, you may think of the Eastern Hemisphere. There are both African and Asian lions, and it’s rare to think about them existing elsewhere. However, the largest extinct lion species can be found in the Western Hemisphere!

The American cave lion (Panthera atrox) actually has many names, including the American lion or North American lion. Their fossils have been found everywhere, ranging from Alaska down to Mexico, and it’s estimated that they lived up to 340,000 years ago.

Having gone extinct around 11,000 years ago, we’re not actually too sure where these supersized felines went. However, they seem to have gone extinct at the same time that many Ice Age animals did. 

The North American lion is estimated to have been as tall as five feet at the shoulders. They were also up to 12 feet long and may have weighed as much as 800 pounds on average. 

American Cave Lion
This graphical reconstruction of an American cave lion illustrates the animal’s massive size.

©Sergiodlarosa / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The Featured Image

Lion jump absurdly high
Lion roaring.
© Gunther Allen/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a writer with almost five years of experience. I graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. I love everything animals and nature related! The American kestrel is my favorite animal, but I also like sharks and alligators. In my free time, I like to watch documentaries and explore nature.

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  2. National Park Service, Available here: https://www.nps.gov/whsa/learn/nature/american-lions.htm
  3. Smithsonian Magazine, Available here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/animal-hybrids-ligers-and-tigons-and-pizzly-bears-oh-my-31133439/