Lion (leo, Leach, and felis leo, Linn.), the largest and most majestic of the cat family, an inhabitant of Africa and Asia. Several species are made by some zoologists, and these are even elevated into a genus distinct from felis by Leach; but the specific distinctions are doubtful, and it is more consonant with the prevailing tendency of naturalists to consider these as varieties of a single species. The best known variety is the African lion, whose great strength, noble appearance, and assumed magnanimity have been the theme of travellers from time immemorial; the male has a long and thick mane, which gives an appearance of nobleness to the animal; the tail has a tuft at the end, which is absent in the tiger and the various spotted cats; the usual color is tawny, with the mane dark, approaching to black; in some the color is much lighter, and in others darker, and there is considerable difference in the ampleness of the mane, but the color is always uniform and without spots; the females are destitute of mane. The average length of a full-grown lion is between 6 and 7 ft., exclusive of the tail, and the height at the shoulder nearly 3 ft.; specimens are on record considerably larger than this.
The chest and shoulders are broader and the neck thicker than in any others of the family, indicating great strength in the anterior extremities; it can carry off a good-sized heifer with ease, and can drag to a considerable distance an ox or a horse. The lioness is smaller than the lion, with more slender and graceful form, and is more agile in her movements and impetuous in her passions. The appearance of the lion when in confinement or unannoyed does not convey the idea of ferocity inspired by the tiger, and his wide forehead, overhanging brows, and shaggy mane give him a majestic look which well entitles him to the appellation of " king of beasts;" but when irritated, there is sufficient evidence that the passion and power of the feline race in him reach their greatest development. - In ancient times lions were far more extensively distributed than at present. They abounded in S. E. Europe, and Herodotus relates that the camels which accompanied the army of Xerxes were attacked by lions while on the march through Macedonia. Pausanias also speaks of lions as inhabiting the mountains between Macedonia and Thessaly. From the Scriptures it is evident that lions were once common in Syria and Palestine, where they are no longer found; and they have also disappeared from other parts of Asia which they formerly inhabited.
Their abundance in ancient times is shown by the fact that in 40 years 1,000 lions were killed at Rome in the amphitheatres, where sometimes 100 at a time were exhibited in the arena. The advance of population and civilization, and especially the general use of firearms, have caused their extermination in many countries, and are gradually driving them into narrower limits. At the present day they are found only in Africa and in Arabia, Persia, India, and on the banks of the Euphrates. In Africa there are four varieties, the Numidian lion, or lion of Bar-bary, the lion of Senegal, and two varieties of the Cape lion or lion of south Africa. The Barbary lion is brown, and the male has a very thick mane. The Senegal lion is of a yellow hue with a thinner mane. Of the two varieties of the Cape lion, one is yellowish and the other brown, and it is said that some with black manes have been seen in that region. - The lion prefers an open level country, such as affords pasture to the immense herds of antelopes, well watered, and with sufficient thicket to shelter him from the midday sun; a favorite haunt is about some spring, where he can easily procure prey as they come to drink.
When not pressed by hunger, the lion generally lies concealed during the day, feeding at early dawn and evening, but occasionally prowling during the whole night around the herds of wild animals, the flocks of the inhabitants, or the encampment of the traveller; skulking from man in the daytime, at night he becomes bold, tearing a bullock or a horse from the enclosure, and sometimes dragging a human victim from the midst of a sleeping circle around a watch fire; his most frequent prey, however, are the various kinds of antelopes, zebras, gnus, giraffes, and wild cattle; the horse is believed to be especially relished by the lion. The breeding place is generally in some deep cover, which is carefully guarded by both parents; gestation is about 110 days, and from two to four young are produced at a time, born with eyes open, but helpless for some weeks; the female is exceedingly ferocious when taking care of her young. Several lions have been born in menageries both in Europe and America, some of which have been raised, though most die at the shedding of the milk teeth, if not in the first few weeks of life, from the neglect of the mother or her inability to supply proper nourishment; the whelps have a frizzled fur, brindled or clouded with dark brown, and with a dark dorsal line; the shaggy mane and tufted tail begin to appear about the third year, attaining their full development in the seventh or eighth; the average age of the lion is about 25 years, though individuals have lived in confinement much longer than this.
As seen in menageries, the lion is one of the most tractable of the large felidce, and shows gratitude and attachment to those who treat it kindly; it is susceptible of being trained to perform certain feats, and to permit familiarities with its formidable jaws and claws which make the spectators shudder; whipping, pulling open the jaws, and placing the head within the range of their teeth, evince a rash courage in their keepers which few but a Van Amburgh or Driesbach would care to imitate. - The lion of the menagerie is a very different animal from that seen in its native wilds; hunting it in Africa is not a very dangerous sport for men of nerve, though it is rarely indulged in for the mere sake of sport unless by a Gerard or a Cumming. The natives occasionally assemble to destroy it, when their flocks have suffered severely; on these occasions the animal is worried in the daytime, when it is timid and unable to see very clearly, or when satiated with food, by dogs and men, and is generally easily killed if the hunters have the courage to approach within gun-shot. Livingstone, though he had sufficient reason for dreading the king of beasts, speaks of him in a manner which detracts greatly from his regal and magnanimous character; according to him, the lion fears man, except at night, and never attacks him unless from necessity, a "man-eater " being always an old animal, whose decaying teeth force him to come to the villages in search of prey; seen in the daytime, he finds nothing very majestic in his appearance, but merely an animal somewhat larger than the largest dog, partaking very strongly of the canine features, and very unlike the usual representations; he stands a second or two gazing, turns and walks slowly away for a dozen paces, looking over the shoulder, then begins to trot, and, when nearly out of sight, bounds off like a greyhound.
By day there is not, as a rule, the smallest danger of lions which are not molested attacking a man, nor even on a clear moonlight night, unless during breeding time; travellers always tie up their cattle and horses on dark rainy nights, but not on moonlight ones. The approach of the lion is stealthy, and any appearance of a trap will prevent his making a spring. Lions are abundant where game is plenty; six or eight, probably one family, occasionally hunt together. Livingstone says: " One is in much more danger of being run over when walking in the streets of London, than he is of being devoured by lions in Africa, unless engaged in hunting the animal." As to the roar of the lion, he says that in a dark and stormy night and in an exposed situation it might inspire fear, but not otherwise, and that the ostrich makes a noise as loud and with difficulty distinguishable from it; as to his prowess, a large buffalo is more than a match for him, as a single toss would disable him; lions never approach a full-grown elephant, and rush off at the very sight of a rhinoceros.
Gordon Cumming does not write so disrespectfully of the king of beasts, but is delighted with his noble appearance, regards his roar as extremely grand and powerful, and from personal experience considers lion hunting under all circumstances decidedly a dangerous pursuit. - The Asiatic variety of the lion is inferior in size, strength, and fierceness, with less ample mane, of a uniform pale fawn color, and with less width of head and nobleness of bearing. Lion hunting in Asia is attended with great pomp and show, and with comparatively little danger on account of the open nature of the districts infested by them, and the consequent fair mark they present to the bullet; occasionally an enraged and wounded animal gives evidence of his strength by pulling the largest elephant to the ground, to the great peril of his riders. The maneless lion of Guze-rat, described by Capt. Smee, is probably a variety of the preceding. - Cuvier and others describe a fossil lion (F. spelcea) as occurring in the caverns of the diluvial epoch in Europe as far north as Great Britain; some of the fragments found indicate an animal one fourth larger than the existing lion; their remains are found with those of bears and hysenas in the caverns of Kirkdale and Gailenreuth, though less abundant.
Skeleton of the Lion.