One of the largest cats to have ever existed, American Lion is a long extinct subspecies of lions. A descendant of cave lions of Eurasia, the American Lion is thought to have evolved during the later part of the Pleistocene era, nearly seventy thousand years ago. It arrived into the Americas around thirty thousand years ago through the Bering Land Bridge that joined Eastern Siberia to Alaska. From there it spread south, to cover a range including most of North America and northern parts of South America. Classified initially as a separate species Panthera Atrox, the American Lion was subsequently found to be largely similar to the other lion subspecies and was thus renamed as Panthera Leo Atrox, a subspecies of the modern lion.
Physically the American Lion is thought to be the largest lion in history, alongside the European Cave Lion. It was even bigger than the saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon). With a body length of eleven and a half feet, including tail, and weight between six to hundred pounds - this great cat would have rivaled the biggest felid in size had it existed today, the Siberian Tiger. Body was muscular with a large frame and long legs, enabling it to reach speeds greater than those attained by modern lions. Skin was probably pale in coloration and lightly striped, according to some paleontologists. Skull was large with a broad muzzle and long canine teeth. Males lacked a proper mane. Tail was about four feet long and assisted the lions in balancing themselves during high-speed pursuit of prey.
Prey animals of the American Lion included mammoth, bison, deer, horse and other herbivores of ancient times. The study of fossil records suggests that these lions lived and hunted as a pair, rather than as a pride. However, they were capable of advanced social relationships, as is evidenced by their disproportionately large brain size. There is evidence of conflict with man too, chronicled by cave drawings of those times. Human beings began populating the Americas as the last ice age was drawing to a close and the megafauna were facing extinction, bringing people into conflict with predators.
The range of American Lion included a large part of the Americas. As it spread from Alaska and Yukon in the North, the lion moved to all but the eastern regions of the northern continent. Fossil remains have been discovered in the south and mid-west of present day United States as well as Mexico. The most well preserved specimens have been found in Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. In the south, the American Lion is thought to have moved as far as Peru, just before the animal's extinction nearly ten thousand years back.
The extinction of American Lion is thought to have been the result of drastic climatic changes that occurred as the last glacial period came to a close. A large number of mammalian species were wiped out, including the prey animals of the lions. This coincided with the migration of human beings to the new world. Changing weather conditions, loss of prey, conflict with man and competition with newly emerging super-predators resulted in the decline and eventual extinction of American Lions as the modern Holocene epoch began. Of all the land mammals the lion is the one that has perhaps lost the most ground in history. As man has flourished, the lion has been driven out from Europe, Americas and most of Asia and Africa - isolated to scattered reserves where the great cat continues to face constant threats to its survival.