Sunday, September 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Asiatic Lion.

Anyone who knows anything about lions knows that they live in Africa. Depending on your source, they either have a strangely anthropomorphic family or a harem system in which the big guy gets all the women. Lions are probably the most filmed predators on the African savannah.

So when one hears a story about lions in places like, say, Greece and India, brows go up. Where did the Nemean Lion (and, come to think of it, half of all Greek monsters) come from if Greece had no lions? Doesn't India have tigers instead? Hey, come to think of it, did the lions that devoured ancient Christians really come all the way from Kenya?

The Arabic text says "get in the car."

A not-so-long time ago, two species of lion roamed the lands: The African lion and the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica). The African lion gets thousands of documentaries every year and two charming animated films; the Asiatic lion gets this entry and a place on the Endangered Species list.

Asiatic and African lions differ almost solely by location. The African lion is, well, African; the Asiatic lion once spanned Europe (including Greece and Italy), the Arabian Peninsula, and India.  Fossil records suggest that they may even have been in Alaska.

Asiatic on the bottom.

At a glance, there are a few subtle anatomical differences between the Asiatic and African species that only lion-otakus can really pick out; look them up if you really must nitpick. The species are so close they can interbreed, leading to debatable species conservation practices. With only 400-odd Asiatic lions in the wild, genetic purity matters.

Yes, the population of Asiatic lions declined from thousands to only four hundred. Currently, habitat loss and hunting livestock are the main threats to their survival. All four hundred of them are thought to be somewhere around Gir Forest, India, which remains the only natural habitat of the Asiatic lion. (No, that is not a typo, Invader Zim fans.)

Even with the Asiatic lion's wide range, there were never lions in China. The "lions" found in Chinese lore are composite, nigh-mythical beasts that look more like dogs than lions to most Westerners. This happened because the only lions ever received came in the form of Asiatic lion pelts from India. A certain Chinese monk used his imagination and used the few images of lions he had to create the ultimate lucky beast:


...whatever that monk was on, we want some.

1 comment:

  1. On the note of anthropomorphism, ever notice some people look like lions? Just a thought... Sekhmet give birth to a race?