Monday, November 17, 2008

Cape Lion

Cape LionThe largest of Sub-Saharan Lions, Cape Lion resided for millennia in southern Africa before it finally became extinct in the wild during the mid-nineteenth century. The huge lion, renowned for its thick black mane, used to live in areas that are now part of Cape of Good Hope Province in South Africa, surrounding Cape Town. Classified in scientific nomenclature as Panthera Leo Melanochaitus, the Cape Lion was isolated to a large extent from the modern day South African Lion, Panthera Leo Krugeri, by the Drakensberg Escarpment and thus possessed genetic and physical attributes unique from other lions south of the Sahara.

Not much is known about the distinguishing features that separated Cape Lions from other southern lions of Africa. In fact many still doubt if the Cape Lion was indeed a distinct subspecies of lions with unique genetic markers. However, there are certain physical attributes that characterize the Cape Lions. First is their large size in comparison to lions in neighboring areas. Second is their thick black mane that extended down their back and underneath their belly. The heavy mane was darker than those seen in other groups of lions, and was black throughout its length, apart from a small portion around the face that was brownish in color. Ears were also tipped in black. Face was broad and limbs were strongly built.

There is little documentary evidence about the behavior, hunting and reproductive profile of the Cape Lions apart from anecdotal evidence, paintings and stories of aggressive lion breaching the walls of Dutch colonial castles in the seventeenth century. The Dutch brought many of these magnificent animals back with them to The Netherlands and the animals dispersed later into various zoos and circuses across Europe as their cousins in the wild were gradually hunted into extinction by European settlers of the Cape Colony, through seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Unlike many other species that have been wiped out gradually by loss of land and prey to human encroachment, the extinction of Cape Lions in the wild was relatively abrupt - giving ground to the belief that at least this great cat was lost largely to hunting than any other human intervention. The last lion in Cape Province was killed in 1858 and the last known Cape Lion was shot in what was formerly the Natal Province of South Africa in 1865, bringing a formal end to this glorious animal's existence in the wild.

As with the Barbary Lion, there remained speculation as regards the existence of genetic lines of Cape Lions in captive animals across the world long after their supposed extinction. However, even as animals with strong genetic and physical resemblance to the Barbary Lions were discovered in the later half of twentieth century - the search for descendants of Cape Lions proved hopeless. This, though, was about to change in January 2000 when John Spence, director and trustee of Cape Town's Tygerberg Zoo in South Africa received images of a lion from the world-famous Novosibrisk Zoo in Central Siberia. The animal, named Simon, bore a striking resemblance to the description of the Cape Lion and Spence, who had been searching and had traveled worldwide to trace these lost lions for the past thirty years, was ecstatic to have discovered it. It appears that the lion was a descendant from an animal given to the zoo by a circus a long time ago.

Cape Lion CubSpence proceeded to contact the authorities in Novosibrisk Zoo and they agreed to provide two of Simon's cubs for relocation to South Africa and possible breeding to recreate the line of Cape Lions in the country where they once used to live. Thence the two lion cubs were moved to the Tygerberg Zoo. The cubs, Rustislav and Olga, were already bigger than other fully grown lions at the zoo as they reached adolescence. It has been planned to breed the pair and eventually relocate the lions into the wild in a reserve close to Table Mountain, the land of their ancestors - where the king of beasts may once again stand tall and issue his centuries-old challenge: "Whose land is this? It is mine, mine, mine!"

15 comments:

wildcatsthree said...

great info on this beautiful creature!

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

I so hope this comes true. It would be ashamed to lose this beautiful specimen forever. Have a great day. :)

AudreyRose said...

the cub is so cute :) thanks for the comment


AudreyRose
www.lagawan.info

Julie@Cool Mom Guide said...

My all time favorite animal!

Cats said...

Glad you all liked it.

Sandee I do hope that the beautiful lions survive and their species is preserved. I'll try and contact John Spence to inquire about the current status of the project.

Julie the Cape Lion is fast becoming my favorite animal too - alongside the Barbary Lion!

BeadedTail said...

I sure hope they are able to do as planned! They must be truly majestic if they are bigger than other lions when just in adolescence! Wow!

PurrPrints said...

I hope the breeding and relocating goes well--it sounds like an absolutely magnificent subspecies!

Thanks, as well, for the compliments on both my cards and my favorite jewelry items on my blog--the jewlery stuff is especially cool, imho--it never ceases to amaze me what wonderful stuff can be found on etsy!

Mickey said...

What a sad story. I hope they are able to be successful with these cubs and that these magnificant lions can be seen again. It would be something to see a lion with a black mane!!
Purrs Mickey

Shadow / Molly said...

What magnificent cats they were! Let's hope they are able to accomplish their goal!

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

Awesome post. Colonial settlement in African and in many other countries did so much damage to the local wildlife. Ignorance wiped out so many species we won't ever see again. I hope everything goes well for the Cape Lions they do have. That would be quite something to see them back in their true habitat.

Purrs and hugs from us all here on the farm
Liz

Catillnesseshq.com said...

Cape lions are soooo cool. I sure hope they stick around and don't become extinct.

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