The New International Encyclopædia/Lion

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NIE 1905 Lion - teeth.jpg
Permanent dentition: i, incisors; c, canines; p, premolars; m, molars. In the upper jaw p3 is the upper carnassial, and in the lower jaw m indicates the lower carnassial tooth.

LION (AS. lēo, OF. lion, leon, Fr. lion, It. leone, lione, from Lat. leo, from Gk. λέων, leōn, lion). The most famous of the great cats (Felis leo), and distinguished from all others by its mane and the hairy tuft at the end of the tail. It inhabits Africa and Southwestern Asia. A lion of large size stands three feet high, and measures about nine and one-half feet from the nose to the tip of the tail, which is about three feet long; but most specimens fall short of these figures. The greatest size seems to be attained in South Africa. The weight rarely reaches 500 pounds. The skull of an adult may measure 13 inches in length, and 9½ inches in breadth across the cheek-bones. In accordance with its desert life, its color is a uniform pale tawny, sometimes reddish, and occasionally almost black. Though never streaked or spotted, the mane is frequently darker than the coat, or even diversified with blackish patches. Kittens are obscurely spotted and striped at first, as is the case with other concolorous species of groups generally spotted, but this disappears after a few months. The lioness is somewhat smaller than the lion, and has no mane—nor have young males. Sometimes they never acquire more than a scanty ornament of this kind, but the so-called ‘maneless lion of Gujarat’ seems not to exist as a separate race. There is, however, great diversity in this feature, as in color, even within the same litter. The mane is evidently a sexual ornament, and also a shield, which offers some protection to the males in the combats which occur in this species more frequently and with more fierceness than in the case of any other wild cat of which we know. The whole frame is extremely muscular, and the fore parts in particular are remarkably powerful, giving, with the large head and copious mane, a noble appearance to the animal, which, with its strength and its appalling voice, has led to its being called the ‘king of beasts.’ The accompanying nobility of character which has been ascribed to it by Buffon and his followers seems, however, largely fanciful.

Habitat. In the time preceding the Glacial Epoch, lions, indistinguishable by their remains, entombed in the floors of caves, from modern forms, roamed over all Southern Europe, Germany, France, and the British Isles. They seem to have been exterminated in the North and West by the glacial cold, but survived in Southeastern Europe well into historic times, for the Romans knew of them anciently in what is now Rumania, Greece, and European Turkey; and still more recently they have existed in Syria and Arabia. These animals probably were driven away by man. They were also formerly numerous from the Caucasus to Afghanistan and Baluchistan; but are now scarce and local in Asia, extinct in Asia Minor, Arabia, and Egypt, and have nearly or quite disappeared from Algeria.

In Asia they were formerly abundant on the sandy wastes of Rajputana and the high plains of Persia, but now have almost or quite disappeared from India, and are confined to the swampy lowlands of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, and certain valleys east of the Persian Gulf; in Africa they are to be found in the naked deserts of the Southern Sahara, the Kalihari Desert, and the Abyssinian regions, as well as among the rough hills of Mashonaland and the dense swamps of the Upper Nile tributaries. Everywhere, during the day, they are likely to hide and sleep in secluded clusters of brush-grown rocks, thickets of thorny bushes, or patches of reeds or tall grass with the color of which their yellow coats are perfectly in accord. It is in such haunts and in the spring that the whelps are born. Usually there are three young, and rarely are more than five produced. They are born with their eyes open (the pupils are round). Although during the pairing season the lioness apparently delights in provoking jealous combats for her favors, by which the weaker members of the race are continually ‘weeded out’ and only the strongest survive to produce offspring (see Sexual Selection), she makes a devoted mother, and the male stays with his family and assists in supplying their wants until the young are well grown. It is said that old lions of unusual strength are often polygamous; and it is also asserted that ordinarily the same mates keep together for several successive seasons, or for life. Probably both assertions are true; likely it is also true that other pairs change annually. Where the animals are or were very numerous, polygamy and frequent change of mate would he likely to happen more often than where they were few and the range of choice correspondingly limited. No young lion can get a mate, nor an old one keep her, where others are about, except by fighting.

Where lions have not been much disturbed by guns they are likely to be seen abroad and hunting in the daytime, sometimes in small family troops, but elsewhere, and generally, they prowl and hunt at night. Though able to gallop swiftly for a short distance, their weight and their feline nature incline them to adopt stealthy approach or ambush in their hunting. They are unable to climb trees, but are nimble enough in scrambling about rocks. Knowing the habits of the animals they seek, they wait beside their paths or at their drinking-places, or skillfully stalk them in the open, depending as much, probably, on their eyesight as on their faculty of scent. What they eat depends upon where they live. In India deer, antelopes, wild boars, and lesser wild animals are largely supplemented by domestic or semi-domestic cattle, goats, pigs, ponies, camels, and an occasional Hindu. In Mesopotamia the lions would greatly decrease or starve were it not for the large herds of half-wild pigs that range the oak forests east of the Persian Gulf. In Africa their great numbers were correlative with the hordes of game with which that continent was frequently overrun, and the disappearance of this game means the doom of the ‘king of beasts,’ unless cattle replace the wild grazers. The elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus are beyond its powers, and the buffalo is able to resist a single lion, as a rule, though frequently pulled down by two or three acting in concert. The larger antelopes and equine animals are the lion's natural and constant prey, and it seems to prefer the latter—the zebras and wild asses. These animals, however, keep in the open plains, are quick to perceive and swift to escape intended attack, and in the days when game was abundant most lions fed mainly on antelopes. Even here, however, they had not always an easy victim. Schulz, who gives an unusual amount of information as to the Central African lion in his New Africa, says that this beast does not dare attack roan and Harris's antelopes in his usual manner, a leap from behind to the haunches, “for with their backward sweeping horns they are able to make things lively for any lion foolish enough to make the attempt. These, with hornless game, such as the quagga, they seize by the nose.”

The method of attack has been described in so many ways by creditable hunters and native observers, that it is evident no one method exists, but if the first lightning-like leap and overbearing stroke does not crush the animal, the nose may be seized in a paw and the head jerked back, breaking the neck; or the great blood-vessels of the throat may be gnawed open, or the animal simply be mauled to death. It is customary for the lion, like other great cats, to carry or drag its prey into a thicket or near its lair before feeding upon it, and under the excitement of being disturbed and chased it is capable of extraordinary feats of strength in so doing, but these seem to have been exaggerated. That he can drag a large animal a considerable distance is undoubted. Having killed his prey, he eats at once what he wants of it. If other lions have helped him, they get what they are able to take. When they are satisfied, any lioness or young lions near by get such shares of what remains as their agility and courage enable them to seize.

Wherever settlements are made in a district infested by lions, these animals profit by raids upon domestic animals; and the scarcer the wild prey becomes, and the more familiarity the lions acquire with man and his ways, the more harm they do. Few fences or stockades are effective against them. The next step is the habit of occasional or persistent preying upon humanity. How the lion of the wilderness behaves in the presence of man depends upon such a diversity of circumstances, and so varies with individuals, that it is not safe to generalize. If he is not hungry and has a free way for retreat, he will very likely run when a man is met; but he may charge on the instant. A few brought to bay have been known to cower, but the majority fight for life bravely. Occasionally certain lions, like tigers, get into the habit of deliberately seeking human flesh. They are often old, weakened ones, no longer capable of hunting well, but sometimes are individuals, wiser than the ordinary, who have learned that humanity is the easiest possible prey. Such animals must be got rid of, and in Africa large parties are organized to hunt them down and kill them—an achievement rarely accomplished without further loss of human life.

The hunting of lions is done nowadays almost altogether on foot, by lying in wait at night at their drinking-places, or by seeking them by day in their lairs. The literature of sport in Africa, Persia, and India abounds in thrilling tales of adventures thus encountered. Various traps have always been used for their capture, the most successful of which is the pitfall, and by this means principally were captured the great numbers of lions familiar to the civilized people of antiquity.

This imposing animal, we are told, makes its appearance in art and literature very early. Frequent mention is made of it in the cuneiform tablets and Hebrew Scriptures. In the so-called Song of Pentaur, describing the war of Rameses II. against the Cheta, lions are said to have accompanied the King's chariot. They were kept in all the Roman cities for the public sports, and hundreds were sometimes provided for the entertainment of the populace in a single series of games. They were pitted against each other, or some other great beasts, but mainly they were matched against the ‘bestiarii’ or professional animal-killers of the arena. So great and lasting was the demand for this purpose that the supply became scanty, and the Emperor Honorius, in the fifth century, enacted laws prohibiting the killing of African lions. Under this protection they so increased and became so bold in their destruction of villagers and cattle, that Justinian was compelled to rescind the edict. Extraordinary stories are told of the degree of tamability and education reached by some of these ancient lions, but they should be received with distrust. The kittens are playful, gentle, and affectionate, and some adults are docile, subdued, and even seem to care for their teachers, but none is really trustworthy; all must be kept in subjection by fear, and their acquired intelligence is very small. The tricks and performances which the trained beasts of the menagerie go through are usually very simple when analyzed. Lions withstand captivity well, however, and finer specimens have probably been reared in zoölogical gardens than ever were seen in the wilderness. They breed readily, even in traveling menageries, and few if any now exhibited were not born in captivity.

For the Asiatic lion, consult authorities mentioned under Tiger. See Colored Plate of Felidæ.

Bibliography. Standard works, but all previous to 1885 should be read with caution; the best account will be found in the Royal Natural History (London, 1895; New York, as the New Natural History, about 1898). Porter's Wild Beasts (New York, 1894) has a very complete and judicious summary of the animal's biography. For the African lion and its hunting, consult the writings of many missionary travelers and hunters, especially Livingstone; Moffat, Missionary Labors and Scenes in South Africa (London, 1845); Gerard, La chasse au lion et les autres chasses de l'Algérie (Paris, 1854); Andersson, The Lion and the Elephant (London, 1873); Lake Ngami (London, 1856); Daumas, Les chevaux du Sahara (Paris, 1851); Gordon-Cumming, A Hunter's Life in Africa (New York, 1850); Harris, Wild Sports in Southern Africa (5th ed., London, 1852); Drummond, The Large Game . . . of South Africa (Edinburgh, 1875); Baker, Wild Beasts and Their Ways (London, 1890); Cameron, Across Africa (London, 1877); Schulz and Hammar, New Africa (London, 1897); Holub, Seven Years in South Africa, translated by Frewer (London, 1881); Schweinfurth, Heart of Africa (Leipzig, 1878); Kerr, The Far Interior (London, 1886); Blanford, Geological and Zoological Survey of Abyssinia (London, 1870); Selous, A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa (London, 1890).


NIE 1905 Lion - cat family - Felidæ.jpg