Overview

Comprehensive Description

Miscellaneous Details

"Lions are perhaps bolder than tigers, and certainly much more noisy, their habit of roaring, especially in the evening and at night, having necessarily attracted the attention of all who have been in countries infested by them. Of the two the tiger, though standing lower, is heavier in the body, and I think the more powerful animal. (Blanford, 1888)"
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Summary

The Asiatic lion or the Indian lion is a subspecies of lion which exists as an isolated population in Gujarat. Its isolation renders it vulnerable to extinction to unpredictable events such as epidemics and forest fires.
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Distribution

Range Description

The range of the lion in North Africa and South-West Asia formerly stretched across the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across south-west Asia to eastern India. Today the only living representatives of the lions once found throughout much of South-West Asia occur in India's Gir Forest (Nowell and Jackson 1996) but there are now also some groups outside Gir Forest - Girnar, coastal subpopulation, Bali Tana subpopulation.
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Historic Range:
Turkey to India

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Physical Description

Morphology

"Approximately equal to the tiger in size and in the relative length of the tail, but distinguished from it by the complete or almost complete loss of the pattern in the adult, by the uniformly darker or lighter tawny hue of the upper side, due to the blending of blackish and pale speckling of the individual hairs, by the presence of a black tuft at the tip of the tail, of a black patch behind the ear, and by the absence of sharp contrast between the tint of the flanks and belly and of the outer and inner sides of the limbs. Also by the forward and upward streaming of the hairs on the sides and top of the neck to form a higher or lower median erect crest on the nape ; and in almost all cases by the forward direction of the hairs on the middle of the back from a whorl in front of the loins. The male is larger than the female and, as maturity approaches, typically develops a mane on the neck, consisting of a median crest running along the nape from the shoulders to the crown, of a fringe on the cheek, and of longer hairs extending over the sides of the neck to the breast between the fore legs. This is accompanied by a tuft of hair on the elbow and frequently by longer hairs on the chest and abdomen. Newly-born cubs are sometimes uniformly coloured, except for faint spots on the underside ; but as a rule they have a distinct pattern on the upper side consisting of rosette spots like those of a jaguar or leopard, but these spots commonly show a tendency to arrangement in vertical lines and, as a further stage, to coalesce and form looped stripes like those of a well-marked tiger. Usually the pattern disappears in about six months, but is occasionally retained for two or three years or even more. The coat, according to the season, may be short and sleek or tolerably thick and long, long enough to be brushed in all directions. The general colour is very variable, ranging from ruddy-tawny, heavily speckled with black, to sandy -or buffish-grey, sometimes with a silvery sheen in certain lights and with the black speckling much less in evidence, and below, including the chin, and on the inside of the legs from buff to nearly white. The mane also varies in luxuriance and colour. It may consist merely of a crest running along the nape from the shoulders to the crown and of a scanty fringe on the cheek and throat, where the hairs are only about 4 in. long ; or it may form a luxuriant mat over the summit and sides of the neck, the longest hairs being nearly a foot in length. Its colour is usually tawny, with a mixture of blackish and grey hairs, but it may be tolerably golden-tawny almost throughout, or it may be heavily blackened along the crest and low down in front of the shoulder."
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Size

Length 8.5 to 9.5 feet ; 3.5 feet in height ; foot 6.25 inches in diameter.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Asiatic lions are genetically distinct from the lions of sub-Saharan Africa, although the difference is not large, being smaller than the genetic distance between human racial groups (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The Gir is dry deciduous forest dominated by teak, the predominance of which is partially due to the silvicultural practices of the Gujarat State Forest Department, which permits logging and replants clear-cut areas with teak (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The forest, which covered about 2,600 km² at the turn of the century, has since shrunk to less than half this size. Most of the remaining forest is included in the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

"Lions generally frequent more open country and are less secretive and more regardless of exposure than tigers, the habits of these two great cats are on the whole tolerably similar. Being approximately equal in size and strength, they are alike capable of killing large and powerful game. Lions, however, except at the breeding season, appear to be more sociable. In the Gir Forest they prey mainly upon the big game and domesticated livestock. They are mainly nocturnal in their movements, sleeping in the daytime and wandering greatly in search of food at night."
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Reproduction

"The period of gestation is about sixteen and a half weeks (116 days) and the cubs, usually from two to five in number, may be born with their eyes already open, although frequently they are closed."
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Panthera leo persica

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Panthera leo persica

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
D

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Breitenmoser, U., Mallon, D.P., Ahmad Khan, J. & Driscoll, C.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
The Asiatic Lion exists as a single isolated population in India's Gujurat State, numbering approximately 175 mature individuals, all occurring within one subpopulation (but in four separate areas, three of which are outside of the Gir Forest protected area). Since the population now extends beyond the boundary of the lion sanctuary, and the numbers are stable, the subspecies is listed as Endangered based simply on the population size (none of the other criteria are met). The subpopulation was in fact increasing for a time but is now considered stable (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007). Constant monitoring is required to ensure poaching levels do not increase; 34 animals were reported killed in 2007 (Jackson 2008). For more information see full Panthera leo species account.

History
  • 2000
    Critically Endangered
  • 1996
    Endangered
    (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Panthera leo persica , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered D ver 3.1 Year Published: 2008
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Population

Population
Current total population size is about 350 animals. Was increasing, but is now stable as has reached its expansion limits and there are now increasing poaching incidents. At least 100 animals are outside the Gir Forest protected area. Total number of mature animals is about 175.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
The Asiatic lion currently exists as a single subpopulation, and is thus vulnerable to extinction from unpredictable events, such as an epidemic or large forest fire.

There are indications of poaching incidents in recent years (there are reports that organised gangs have switched attention from tigers to these lions). There have also been a number of drowning incidents after lions fell into wells.
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"Isolation, poaching."
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Establishment of at least one other wild population is advisable for population safety, for maximizing genetic diversity, and in terms of ecology (re-establishing the lion as a component of the fauna in its former range). However, there are problems in attempting this: a previous attempt to establish a second subpopulation in the Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Uttar Pradesh appeared to be succeeding, as the population grew from three to 11 animals, but then the lions disappeared, presumably shot or poisoned (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Madhya Pradesh has now been selected as the best candidate area. Communities will require resettlement to make room for the Lions, but this time great care is being taken to make the process participatory and to attempt to satisfy local needs, and not engender hostility toward Lion conservation.

Included on CITES Appendix I. This subspecies is fully protected in India (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
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Wikipedia

Asiatic lion

The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), also known as the Indian lion, is a lion subspecies that exists as a single population in India's Gujarat State. It is listed as Endangered by IUCN due its small population size.[1] The lion population has steadily increased in the Gir Forest National Park, more than doubling from a low of 180 individuals in 1974 to 411 individuals consisting of 97 adult males, 162 adult females, 75 sub-adults, and 77 cubs as of April 2010.[3]

The Asiatic lion was first described by the Austrian zoologist Johann N. Meyer under the trinomen Felis leo persicus.[4] It is also known as the Persian lion.[5]

The Asiatic lion is one of five big cat species found in India, apart from Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard.[6] It formerly occurred in Persia, Mesopotamia, Baluchistan, from Sind in the west to Bengal in the east, and from Rampur and Rohilkund in the north to Nerbudda in the south. It differs from the African lion by less inflated auditory bullae, a larger tail tuft and a less developed mane.[7]

Characteristics[edit]

Adult male at Gir Forest
Subadult male

The most striking morphological character, which is always seen in Asiatic lions, and rarely in African lions, is a longitudinal fold of skin running along its belly.[8] Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African lions. Adult males weigh 160 to 190 kg (350 to 420 lb), while females weigh 110 to 120 kg (240 to 260 lb).[9] The height at the shoulders is about 3.5 ft (110 cm).[10] The record total length of a male Asiatic lion is 2.92 m (115 in) including the tail.[11]

The fur ranges in colour from ruddy-tawny, heavily speckled with black, to sandy or buffish-grey, sometimes with a silvery sheen in certain lights. Males have only moderate mane growth at the top of the head, so that their ears are always visible. The mane is scanty on the cheeks and throat with where it is only 4 in (10 cm) long. About half of Asiatic lion skulls from the Gir forest have divided infraorbital foramina, whereas in African lions, there is only one foramen on either side. The sagittal crest is more strongly developed, and the post-orbital area is shorter than in African lion. Skull length in adult males ranges from 330 to 340 mm (13 to 13 in), and in females from 292 to 302 mm (11.5 to 11.9 in).[7]

Compared to African lion populations, the Asiatic lion revealed a diminished amount of genetic variation, which may result from a founder effect in the recent history of the remnant population in the Gir Forest.[12]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Asiatic lion in the Gir forest

The Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Gujarat is the only habitat for the Asiatic lion where an area of 1,412.1 km2 (545.2 sq mi) was declared as a sanctuary for their conservation in 1965. Later, a national park covering an area of 258.71 km2 (99.89 sq mi) was established where no human activity is allowed. In the surrounding sanctuary only Maldharis have the right to graze their livestock.[13]

The population recovered from the brink of extinction to 411 individuals in 2010. They occupy remnant forest habitats in the two hill systems of Gir and Girnar that comprise Gujarat’s largest tracts of dry deciduous forest, thorny forest and savanna and provide valuable habitat for a diverse flora and fauna. Five protected areas currently exist to protect the Asiatic lion: Gir Sanctuary, Gir National Park, Pania Sanctuary, Mitiyala Sanctuary, and Girnar Sanctuary. The first three protected areas form the Gir Conservation Area, a 1,452 km2 (561 sq mi) forest block that represents the core habitat of the Asiatic lion. The other two sanctuaries, Mitiyala and Girnar, protect satellite areas within dispersal distance of the Gir Conservation Area. An additional sanctuary is being established in the nearby Barda forest to serve as an alternative home for Gir lions.[3] The drier eastern part is vegetated with acacia thorn savanna and receives about 650 mm (26 in) annual rainfall; rainfall in the west is higher at about 1,000 mm (39 in) a year.[9]

As of 2010, approximately 105 lions, comprising 35 males, 35 females, 19 subadults, and 16 cubs existed outside the Gir forest, representing a full quarter of the entire lion population. The increase in satellite lion populations may represent the saturation of the lion population in the Gir forest and subsequent dispersal by sub-adults compelled to search for new territories outside their natal pride. Over the past two decades, these satellite areas became established, self-sustaining populations as evidenced by the presence of cubs since 1995.[3]

Former range[edit]

Panthera leo persica. Sketch by A. M. Komarov[14]

The Asiatic lions used to live in West, Southwest, South and Central regions of Asia in historic times. Now the population of the lions currently exists in West India's Gir Forest National Park.

The type specimen of the Asiatic lion was first described from Persia in 1826, followed by descriptions of specimens from Hariana and Basra. Asiatic lions formerly occurred in Iran, Arabia, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Baluchistan.[7] They survived in regions adjoining Mesopotamia and Syria until the middle of the 19th century, and were still sighted in the upper reaches of the Euphrates River in the early 1870s. They were widespread in Iran, but in the 1870s were sighted only on the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains and in the forest regions south of Shiraz.[14]

The advent of firearms led to their extinction over large areas. By the late 19th century, Asiatic lions had been eradicated in Turkey. One of the last sighting of a lion in Iran was in 1941 between Shiraz and Jahrom, Fars Province. In 1944, the corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of Karun river in Iran's Khuzestan Province.[15] Lions served as the national emblem of Iran and appeared on the country's flag at the time. In 1963, the last pride of five Persian lions was hunted in the Dasht-i Arzhan of Fars Province in Iran, and the national newspapers and media "celebrated" the killing of these lions with pictures and fanfare. The diminished pride consisted of a female with four cubs that inhabited a cave. The male had been already shot. The female was shot on the spot, and the cubs were taken as trophies. No subsequent sightings have been reported from Iran.[16]

In India, Asiatic lions once ranged to the state of Bengal, but declined under heavy hunting pressure.[7] In the early 19th century, they were found in north-western and central India in Haryana, Khandesh (in modern-day Maharashtra), Rajasthan, Sind, and eastward as far as Palamu and Rewa, Madhya Pradesh.[17] Severe hunting by Indian royalties and colonial personnel led to a steady and marked decline of lion numbers in the country.[13] Asiatic lions were exterminated in Palamau by 1814, in Baroda, Haryana and Ahmedabad in the 1830s, in Kot Diji and Damoh in the 1840s. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a British officer shot 300 lions. The last lions of Gwalior and Rewah were shot in the 1860s. Until 1880, no lion survived in Guna, Deesa and Palanpur, and only about a dozen lions were left in the Junagadh district. By the turn of the century, they were confined to the Gir Forest and protected by the Nawab of Junagadh in his private hunting grounds.[7]

One lion was killed near Allahabad in 1866.[17] The last lion of Mount Abu was spotted in 1872.[18]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Male Asiatic Lion having a sun bath in Sasan Gir forest.
Comparative illustration of typical Asiatic lion mane types.
Male Asiatic lion after a fight in Gir Forest.

Asiatic lions live in prides. Mean pride size, measured by the number of adult females, tends to be smaller than for African lions: most Gir prides contain just two adult females, with the largest having five.[19] Coalitions of males defend home ranges containing one or more groups of females; but, unlike African lions, Gir males generally associate with their pride females only when mating or on a large kill. A lesser degree of sociability in the Gir lions may be a function of the smaller prey available to them: the most commonly taken species (45% of known kills), the chital, weighs only around 50 kg (110 lb).[20]

In general, lions prefer large prey species within a weight range of 190 to 550 kg (420 to 1,210 lb) irrespective of their availability. Yet they predominately take prey substantially smaller than this, reflecting their opportunistic hunting behaviour. Within this range, they prefer species that weigh 350 kg (770 lb), which is much larger than the largest recorded weight of lion. The group hunting strategy of lions enables exceptionally large prey items to be taken. Hunting success in lions is influenced by hunting-group size and composition, the hunting method used and by environmental factors such as grass and shrub cover, time of day, moon presence and terrain.[21] Domestic cattle have historically been a major component of the Gir lions’ diet.[7]

In 1974, the Forest Department estimated the wild ungulate population to be 9,650 individuals. This population grew consistently in subsequent surveys, reaching 31,490 in 1990 and 64,850 in 2010, consisting of 52,490 spotted deer, 4,440 wild boar, 4,000 sambar, 2,890 blue bull, 740 chinkara, and 290 four-horned antelope. Thus, in the past four decades, the population of wild ungulates increased by over ten times. In contrast, populations of domestic buffalo and cattle declined following resettlement, largely due to direct removal of resident livestock from the Gir Conservation Area. The population of 24,250 resident animals in the 1970s declined to 12,500 in the mid-1980s, but increased to 23,440 animals in 2010. Following changes in both predator and prey communities, Asiatic lions shifted their predation patterns. Today, very few livestock kills occur within the sanctuary, and instead most occur in peripheral villages. In and around the Gir forest, depredation records indicate that lions killed on average 2023 livestock annually between 2005 and 2009, and an additional 696 individuals in satellite areas.[3]

On 18 July 2012, An Asiatic lion dragged a man from his house and killed him near the Gir forest, Amreli, India, this is the second occurrence of this nature after a 25 year old was attacked and killed in Dhodadar, India.[22]

Threats[edit]

The Asiatic lion currently exists as a single subpopulation, and is thus vulnerable to extinction from unpredictable events, such as an epidemic or large forest fire. There are indications of poaching incidents in recent years. There are reports that organised gangs have switched attention from tigers to these lions. There have also been a number of drowning incidents after lions fell into wells.[1]

Prior to the resettlement of Maldharis, the Gir forest was heavily degraded and used by livestock, which competed with and restricted the population sizes of native ungulates. Various studies reveal tremendous habitat recovery and increases in wild ungulate populations following the Maldhari resettlement during the last four decades.[3] Farmers on the periphery of the Gir Forest frequently use crude and illegal electrical fences by powering them with high voltage overhead power lines. These are usually intended to protect their crops from nilgai, but lions and other wildlife are also killed. Nearly 20,000 open wells dug by farmers in the area for irrigation have also acted as traps, which led to many lions drowning. To counteract the problem, suggestions for walls around the wells, as well as the use of "drilled tube wells" have been made.[citation needed]

Inbreeding[edit]

The wild population of Asiatic lions derived from just a dozen individuals that survived in the early 20th century.[7] The population was thus thought to be highly inbred, and especially vulnerable to disease.[23]

Semen and blood samples collected from 28 wild-caught and captive-bred lions from the Gir forest showed a high incidence (79%) of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa compared to free-ranging African lions, which is nearly always associated with infertility. The Gir lion population may have suffered a drastic population bottleneck or series of bottlenecks followed by inbreeding in their recent history.[8]

In the course of a later study, semen and blood samples were collected from seven lions in three Indian zoos. These samples showed high percentage of motile spermatozoa and low incidence of abnormal spermatozoa, thus implying that inbreeding depression had not affected these animals. The low genetic variability may be a feature of the species and not a result of inbreeding in recent times.[24] The RAPD techniques used in this population genetics research have been criticized as being imprecise and having major technical and analytical drawbacks.[25]

Conservation[edit]

Panthera leo persica is included on CITES Appendix I, and is fully protected in India.[19]

Reintroduction[edit]

In the 1950s, biologists advised the government to re-establish at least one wild population in the Asiatic lion's former range in order to ensure the population’s reproductive health and to prevent it from being affected by an outbreak of an epidemic. In 1956, the Indian Board for Wildlife accepted a proposal by the Uttar Pradesh government to establish a new sanctuary for the envisaged reintroduction : the Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary covering 96 km2 (37 sq mi) in eastern Uttar Pradesh where climate, terrain and vegetation is similar to the conditions in the Gir Forest. In 1957, one male and two female wild-caught Asiatic lions were set free in the sanctuary. This population comprised 11 animals in 1965, which all disappeared thereafter.[26]

The initiative to find an alternative habitat for reintroducing Asiatic lions was pursued in the early 1990s. Biologists from the Wildlife Institute of India assessed several potential translocation sites for their suitability regarding existing prey population and habitat conditions. The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Madhya Pradesh was ranked as the most promising location, followed by the Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary and the Darrah National Park.[27] Until 2000, 1,100 families from 16 villages had been resettled from the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, and another 500 families from eight villages envisaged to be resettled. With this resettlement scheme the protected area was expanded by 345 km2 (133 sq mi).[26]

Gujarat state officials resisted the relocation, since it would make the Gir Sanctuary lose its status as the world's only home of the Asiatic lion. Gujarat has raised a number of objections to the proposal, and the matter is now before the Indian Supreme Court. In April 2013, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat state to send some of their Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh to establish a second population there.[28] The court has given wildlife authorities six months to complete the transfer. The number of lions and which ones to be transported will be decided at a later date.[citation needed]

In captivity[edit]

When kept in zoos in colder climates, lions usually develop stronger manes. An adult male Asiatic lion at Chester Zoo.
An Asiatic lioness is reclining in the Ueno Zoo.

Until the late 1990s, captive Asiatic lions in Indian zoos were haphazardly interbred with African lions confiscated from circuses, leading to genetic pollution in the captive Asiatic lion stock. Once discovered, this led to the complete shutdown of the European and American endangered species breeding programs for Asiatic lions, as its founder animals were captive-bred Asiatic lions originally imported from India and were ascertained to be intraspecific hybrids of African and Asian lions. In North American zoos, several Indian-African lion crosses were inadvertently bred, and researchers noted that "the fecundity, reproductive success, and spermatozoal development improved dramatically."[29][30]

DNA fingerprinting studies of Asiatic lions have helped in identifying individuals with high genetic variability, which can be used for conservation breeding programs.[31]

In 2006, the Central Zoo Authority of India stopped breeding Indian-African cross lions stating that "hybrid lions have no conservation value and it is not worth to spend resources on them".[30][32] Now only pure native Asiatic lions are bred in India.

The Asiatic lion International Studbook was initiated in 1977, followed in 1983 by the North-American Species Survival Plan (SSP).[33] The North American population of captive Asiatic lions was composed of descendants of five founder lions, three of which were pure Asian and two were African or African-Asian hybrids. The lions kept in the framework of the SSP consisted of animals with high inbreeding coefficients.[8]

In the early 1990s, three European zoos imported pure Asiatic lions from India: the London Zoo obtained two pairs; the Zürich Zoologischer Garten one pair; and the Helsinki Zoo one male and two females. In 1994, the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for Asiatic lions was initiated. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) published the first European Studbook in 1999. By 2005, there were 80 Asiatic lions kept in the EEP — the only captive population outside of India.[33]

There are now over 100 Asiatic lions in the EEP. The SSP did not yet resume; pure-bred Asiatic lions are needed to form a new founder population for breeding in American zoos.[34]

Evolution[edit]

Asiatic lion depicted on a hunting scene (7th century BC, Nineveh)

Fossil remains found in the Cromer Stage suggest that the lion entered Europe with a gigantic form. Frequently encountered lion bones in cave deposits from Eemian times suggest that the late Pleistocene European cave lion, Panthera leo spelaea, survived in the Balkans and Asia minor. There was probably a continuous population extending into India.[35] Cave lions appeared about 600,000 years ago and were distributed throughout Europe, across Siberia and into western Alaska. The gradual formation of dense forest likely caused the decline in geographic range of lions near the end of the late Pleistocene.[12]

African (above) and Asiatic (below) lions, as illustrated in Johnsons Book of Nature

Phylogenetic analysis of cave lion DNA samples showed that they were highly distinct from their living relatives, and represent lineages that were isolated from lions in Africa and Asia ever since their dispersal over Europe in prehistoric times. They went extinct without mitochondrial descendants on other continents.[36]

Fossil remains of lions were found in Pleistocene deposits in West Bengal.[37] A fossil carnassial found in the Batadomba Cave indicates that Panthera leo sinhaleyus inhabited Sri Lanka during the late Pleistocene, and is thought to have become extinct around 39,000 years ago. This subspecies was described by Deraniyagala in 1939. It is distinct from the extant Asiatic lion.[38]

Lions inhabited the southern part of the Balkan peninsula up to Macedonia and probably the Danube River, but disappeared in Greece around the first century. In the Trans-Caucasus, they were known since the Holocene and became extinct in the 10th century.[14] Pocock suggested that their restricted distribution in India indicated that they were comparatively recent immigrants that came to India through Persia and Baluchistan.[7]

A phylogeographic analysis based on mtDNA sequences of lions from across their entire range indicates that sub-Saharan African lions are phylogenetically basal to all modern lions. These findings support an African origin of modern lion evolution with a probable center in easternsouthern Africa, from where lions migrated to West Africa, eastern North Africa and via the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula into Turkey, southern Europe and northern India during the last 20,000 years. Natural barriers to lion dispersal comprise the Sahara Desert, equatorial rainforests and the Great Rift Valley.[39]

Taxonomic history[edit]

Following Meyer's first description of an Asiatic lion skin from Persia, other naturalists and zoologists also described lions from other parts of Asia that today are all considered synonyms of P. l. persica:[7]

In mythology and art[edit]

Hindu Goddess Durga has an Asiatic lion as her vahanam or divine mount
A page from Kelileh o Demneh dated 1429, from Herat, a Persian translation of the ancient Indian Panchatantra.
Emblem of the Hoysala Empire in Ancient India, depicting Sala fighting the Lion.
Dirham coin of Kaykhusraw II, Sivas, AH 638/AD 1240-1
For more details on this topic, see Cultural depictions of lions.
  • The Sanskrit word for lion is सिंह siṃhḥ, which also signifies the Leo of the Zodiac.[44]
  • Narasimha (Narasingh or Narasinga – man-lion) is described as an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism and is worshiped as "Lion God". Thus, Asiatic lions are considered sacred by all Hindus in India.
  • A lion-faced dakini also appears in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Hindu deity is known as Narasimha and the Tibetan Buddhist form is known as Siṃhamukhā in Sanskrit and Senge Dongma (Wyl. seng ge gdong ma) in Tibetan.[45]
  • The lion is found on numerous flags and coats of arms all across Asia and Europe, and also appears on the Emblem of India and on the flag of Sri Lanka.
  • Singhāsana meaning seat of a lion is the traditional Sanskrit name for the throne of a Hindu kingdom in India and Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka since antiquity.
  • The surnames Singh, Singha and Sinha are related to the Prakrit word siṁgha and Sanskrit word siṃhḥ which refer to lions, tigers and leopards.[46] These are common Sikh and Hindu surnames dating back over 2000 years[citation needed] to ancient India. They originally only used by Rajputs, a Hindu kshatriya or military caste in India since the seventh century. After the birth of the Khalsa brotherhood in 1699, the Sikhs adopted the name "Singh" at the direction of Guru Gobind Singh. As this name was associated with higher classes and royalty, this action was to combat the prevalent caste system and discrimination by last name. Along with millions of Hindu Rajputs today, it is also used by up to 10 million Sikhs worldwide.[47][48]
  • The Sinhalese people are the majority ethnic group of Sri Lanka. The name Sinhala translates to "lion's blood" or "lion people" and refers to the myths regarding the descent of the legendary founder of the Sinhalese people 2500 years ago, Prince Vijaya, who is said to have migrated from Singhapur (Simhapura or Singur).[49]
  • The words "singha" or "singham" meaning "courageous lion" are used as an ending of many surnames, such as "Weerasingha" used by the Sinhala people, and "Veerasingham" used by the Tamil people.
  • The name Sinhala comes from the belief that Vijaya's paternal grandfather was a lion. An alternative theory places Singhapur in modern Sihor, which happens to be close to the Gir Sanctuary.
  • The island nation of Singapore (Singapura) derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city), which in turn is from the Sanskrit सिंह siṃha and पुर pura.[50] According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th-century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as an Asiatic lion.[51] Recent studies of Singapore indicate lions have never lived there, and the animal seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger.
  • The lion makes repeated appearances in the Bible, most notably as having fought Samson in the Book of Judges.
  • The lion is the basis of the lion dances that form part of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and of similar customs in other Asian countries.
  • Chinese guardian lions depicted in Chinese art were modelled on the basis of lions found in Indian temples.[52]
  • Buddhist monks, or possibly traders, possibly brought descriptions of sculpted lions guarding the entry to temples to China. Chinese sculptors then used the description to model "Fo-Lions" (Fo 佛 being Chinese for Buddha) temple statues after native dogs (possibly the Tibetan Mastiff) by adding a shaggy mane. Depictions of these "Fo-lions" have been found in Chinese religious art as early as 208 BC.
  • The Tibetan Snow Lion (Tibetan: གངས་སེང་གེ་; Wylie: gangs seng ge) is a mythical animal of Tibet. It symbolizes fearlessness, unconditional cheerfulness, the eastern quadrant and the element of Earth. It is said to range over mountains, and is commonly pictured as being white with a turquoise mane. Two Snow Lions appear on the flag of Tibet.
  • The symbol of the lion is closely tied to the Persian people. Achaemenid kings were known to carry the symbol of the lion on their thrones and garments. The Lion and Sun, or Shir-va-Khorshid, is one of the most prominent symbols of Iran. It dates back to the Safavid dynasty, and was used on the flag of Iran until 1979.
  • The Nemean lion of pre-literate Greek myth is associated with the Labours of Herakles.[citation needed]
  • Scythian art from Ukraine dated to the 4th century BC depicts Scythians hunting very realistically portrayed lions.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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