Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a novel lentivirus that is genetically homologous and functionally analogous to the human AIDS viruses, human immunodeficiency virus types 1 and 2. FIV causes immunosuppression in domestic cats by destroying the CD4 T-lymphocyte subsets in infected hosts. A serological survey of over 400 free-ranging African and Asian lions (Panthera leo) for antibodies to FIV revealed endemic lentivirus prevalence with an incidence of seropositivity as high as 90%. A lion lentivirus (FIV-Ple) was isolated by infection of lion lymphocytes in vitro. Seroconversion was documented in two Serengeti lions, and discordance of mother-cub serological status argues against maternal transmission (in favor of horizontal spread) as a major route of infection among lions. A phylogenetic analysis of cloned FIV-Ple pol gene sequences from 27 lions from four African populations (from the Serengeti reserve, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and Kruger Park) revealed remarkably high intra- and interindividual genetic diversity at the sequence level. Three FIV-Ple phylogenetic clusters or clades were resolved with phenetic, parsimony, and likelihood analytical procedures. The three clades, which occurred not only together in the same population but throughout Africa, were as divergent from each other as were homologous pol sequences of lentivirus isolated from distinct feline species, i.e., puma and domestic cat. The FIV-Ple clades, however, were more closely related to each other than to other feline lentiviruses (monophyletic for lion species), suggesting that the ancestors of FIV-Ple evolved in allopatric (geographically isolated) lion populations that converged recently. To date, there is no clear evidence of FIV-Ple-associated pathology, raising the possibility of a historic genetic accommodation of the lion lentivirus and its host leading to a coevolved host-parasite symbiosis (or commensalism) in the population similar to that hypothesized for endemic simian immunodeficiency virus without pathology in free-ranging African monkey species.