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The lion

7 November 2013

 

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The modern cats, sabre-toothed cats, hyaenas, civets and mongooses all originated some 52 million years ago from a common ancestor. The scientific name Panthera leo of the lion is derived from the Greek word for a panther and the Latin word for a lion. The extinct lion Panthera leo afrox of North America and Siberia was the largest type of cat known and lived until 11 500 years ago at a time when North America had already been colonized by early humans. It stood 1.7 m at the shoulder and weighed some 363 kg. The oldest fossil lions in Africa have been found at the Zallah Oasis in Libya. Lions were important in the mythology of ancient Egypt.

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The lion was originally described scientifically in 1758 as  Felis leo by Linnaeus based on a specimen that was collected at  Constantin in Algeria, but the name Panthera was coined by Oken in 1816 to differentiate the roaring cats from the hissing cats of the genus Felis. Lions formerly occurred widely in Europe and Asia and the lions of Africa are all regarded as members of the subspecies Panthera leo leo. The only other subspecies of living lion is the Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica which still occurs as a limited population in the Gir National Park in India. The Asiatic lion differs from that of Africa in having a longitudinally extended flap of skin on the belly, weighs less and is smaller than the African lion. The African lion occurs in the entire Africa south of the Sahara Desert, except for the tropical forests of West Africa, and has already become extinct in North Africa. It uses a diversity of habitat types but usually does not occur in forests. It penetrates deserts along river valleys but abundant prey is a necessity... (Become a subscriber for more)

References:

Skinner, J D & C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 390 - 396.

Sunquist, M & F Sunquist 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp 285 - 304.

Wozencraft, W C 2005. Order Carnivora. In D E Wilson & D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world – a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp 546 - 547.

artikel by: Prof J du P Bothma

 

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