Lion, one of the largest members of the cat family. The lion’s size and strength have captured human imagination since ancient times, giving these animals the nickname king of beasts. Lions are also known for their mighty roar, a fearsome sound that can be heard by humans more than 8 km (5 mi) away.
Lion and Cubs
Lion and Cubs
So closely identified with Africa is the lion, Panthera leo, that many people are surprised to learn that a small population of lions endures in the Gīr National Park of northwestern India. But lions once ranged throughout Middle East, and even into Europe, where Macedonians and Greeks hunted them only 2,000 years ago. Even societies with no history of lions of their own, such as the United Kingdom and Netherlands, have adopted the imposing cat as a symbol of national power. The very name of Singapore means “Lion City,” and the Chinese and Tibetans so revere the lion that they have bred several small dogs-the Pekingese, Lhasa apso, and shih tzu-in its image.
Gerard Lacz/Peter Arnold, Inc.
Lions once ranged over vast areas on many continents. Fossil evidence shows that until about 10,000 years ago, lions lived throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and into Asia as far as southern India and the island of Sri Lanka. They also lived in North America and northern South America. Since then, however, the lion’s range has been shrinking steadily. Human hunters have killed countless numbers of lions as well as the hoofed mammals that lions eat. In many places, people have taken over the lion’s habitats, which often are good places to farm and raise cattle. These habitats include grassy plains, savannas, and dry woodlands but never thick forests or jungle. Today, lions are found in the wild in only two places on earth. About 100,000 lions survive in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Another 300 lions, called Asian lions, live in a reserve called the Gīr National Park and Lion Sanctuary in northwest India. In both places, lions continue to be threatened by human activities. Thousands of lions also live in zoos and circuses around the world.
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