Lions and Humans

Throughout history, lions have been called "King of Beasts" and used to symbolize royal authority. Rulers, often described as lions, wore lion skins to

Natural Selection
Lionesses do most of the hunting for the pride. (Digital Stock)

impress subjects with their majesty and power. Hunters demonstrated bravery and prowess by killing lions. Lions have been celebrated in myth and legend from antiquity to the present; in astrology, Leo Major reigns as the fifth house of the Zodiac.

Originally, lions existed throughout southern Europe, all of Africa, the Near East, and from southwest Asia to India. As human population and agriculture expanded, hunting and habitat destruction greatly reduced lion numbers. By 100 c.E., lions had been eliminated from Europe, by the time of the Crusades they were extinct in the Near East, and before 1900 had vanished from North Africa and most of Asia. When the Nawab of Junagadh established the Gir Forest Lion Sanctuary in Gujarat, India, in 1965, less than 100 Asian lions remained in the world; a 1990 study estimated that the population had rebounded to about 250 individuals.

Estimates of the African lion population south of the Sahara Desert run as high as fifty thousand. The overwhelming majority live in national parks and reserves, where wild animals are protected as valuable national assets, attracting tourists and significant income. In the parks, lions have become so accustomed to humans that they sometimes rest in the shade of tour buses to avoid the afternoon sun. As human populations continue expanding, governments face pressure to reduce the preserves and permit agriculture and grazing to increase the food supply. However, most naturalists believe the monetary value of wild animals in producing foreign exchange will ensure the long-term survival of the African lion, even if reduced in numbers.

—Milton Berman See also: Carnivores; Cats; Cheetahs; Fauna: Africa; Fauna: Asia; Groups; Jaguars; Leopards; Mountain lions; Predation; Tigers.

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