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Big Cats - Lion

( Originally Published 1936 )

In point of size there is not much difference between the Lion and the Tiger, though the male lion appears larger on account of the heavy mane which covers his head, neck, and shoulders. This begins to grow about the end of the first year, and reaches its full length in three or four years more. The Lion lives as a rule in open desert country, where his tawny or dun colour blends with the landscape and protects him from being easily seen. The young are covered with a soft, woolly fur, thickly spotted, and are with-out the tuft at the end of the tail, which appears later in life. See Plate 11, Fig. 54.

In captivity Lions vary considerably in character, some being docile and affectionate, others savage and stubborn. The Lioness takes care of her cubs much as the house cat does of her kittens, carrying them about in her mouth, licking them, and playing with them. She is a strict disciplinarian, however, cuffing them with her paws when they annoy her too much, and holding them down and " washing " them in spite of their protests. In defence of her young the Lioness is very courageous, and is a foe to be reckoned with.

The Lion is a very noisy animal in captivity, often roaring from hunger and excitement, and for other reasons difficult to understand. When a pair are in a cage together they roar, as a rule, alternately, the roar of the Lioness being shorter, sharper, and not so deep as that of her mate. She usually crouches in roaring, placing her head close to the ground, where-as the male stands upright. She is much the more restless, when caged, exercising a great deal, while he seems averse to exerting himself more than necessary. Contrary to the habit of going only in pairs, common to the other Felidae, Lions have frequently been seen together in larger numbers, as many as seven having been noticed by hunters in company at one time—probably an old male and female and their two successive litters of cubs.

In the wild state, the Lion usually hunts at night, but is occasionally seen prowling about in the day-time. In Africa, where they are more numerous than in any other part of the world, their food consists principally of zebras and some of the slower ante-lopes, but when hard pressed by hunger they will eat carrion. When the Uganda Railway was under construction in Africa, some years ago, the Lions of that region were a constant menace to the labourers, lurking about and striking them down as opportunity offered.

Although the Lion and the tiger are so different in external appearance, their skeletons are almost undistinguishable except for the shape of the skull. In the Lion the profile is almost straight from front to back, whereas the tiger has a decided angle between the face and the back of the head.

The eye of the Lion is one of his most beautiful characters, being large, round, and of a splendid golden-brown colour. The mouth is very large, and the lips are full and loose. In anger, the lips are drawn up, the nose wrinkles in great creases, the ears are laid close back against the head, and the tail is held stiffly out behind. When in this mood, with fire seeming to flash from his eyes, the Lion is indeed a terrible and awe-inspiring sight.

The great African missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, supplies us with one of the few absolutely authentic stories we have, telling how a man feels in the very jaws of a lion. Livingstone, while living with one tribe, decided to join them in a lion hunt, hoping to kill at least one of the troop that was attacking the native herds; for he says that the death of a single one of the troop is enough to make the rest abandon that part of the country. Because of the cowardice of the natives, an attempt to surround the lions failed more than once, and Livingstone, deciding to abandon the hunt, was on his way home, when a single lion was met with. At this animal Living-stone fired both barrels of his gun, and while reloading, was warned by a shout of the natives. He turned too late to avoid the attack, was seized by the shoulder and brought to the ground.

With terrible growls, the lion shook Livingstone, as a terrier shakes a rat. This produced " a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror," though the victim was conscious of all that was passing. Being asked afterward of what he was thinking while being held by the lion, Living-stone answered, " I was thinking what part of me he would eat first!" The injury received in this en-counter left Livingstone maimed for thirty years, for ever afterward he found it difficult to raise his left arm higher than his shoulder.

Other accounts from the lips of men who have escaped, after being seized by lions, seem to show that the lion is so entirely confident of holding his prey, and so fearless, that he satisfies himself with keeping the victim still until the animal is either angered by being wounded, or begins to drag his prey away.

In fact, he acts as a cat does with a helpless mouse. Many escapes from the lion. have been due to this lack of ferocity after the prey has once been secured. Stories telling of the actions of wild beasts while being hunted, or while fighting for their lives against a number of enemies, should always be considered with caution. All such circumstances are entirely unusual, and general rules can hardly be drawn from the action of a wild animal when in great excitement or terrible danger. This is especially true of the larger animals that are more used to hunt than to be hunted.

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