World Lion Day – what does it mean? People have revered, honored – and feared –lions for thousands of years. The lion in history, art, culture, and human affairs represents power, strength, tenacity, nobility, traits that make the lion a metaphor for human strength and resilience. At the end of this story are web links to groups where you can raise your voice for international campaigns, research groups and conservationists to save Africa’s wild lions.
On World Lion Day, we celebrate how lions have fit into the human world (or not!) for over a thousand generations. They are not trinkets or trophies – or the object of our relentless need to have domain over every living animal. They deserve their own place in the natural world as top predators to maintain the balance of ecosystems.
Below we’ll show you how lions have been depicted in art, literature and human affairs — from 36,000-year-old cave paintings of Chauvet (France), among the earliest works of art ever known; to low reliefs in Pharaonic Egypt, the heraldic crests of provinces and royal families throughout Europe; to well-known literature and fables; even in memorials to the fallen.
A few facts (courtesy of World Lion Day)
- In 1957 the fossilized toe bone of a lion was unearthed close to Trafalgar Square in central London, dating back to 125,000 years ago. Coincidentally, there are lions above ground — the Square’s bronze lions by Landseer.
- Inside the Chauvet Cave in France, humans began depicting animals on the walls some 35,000 years ago. Cave lions are depicted in a grouping that was recently photographed by National Geographic. While the cave are closed to preserve the paintings, you can visit an entire re-creation of the cave and its paintings (opened in April 2015)
- It is thought that a single population arose in Sub-Saharan Africa around 320,000 – 190,000 years ago that gave rise to the present African lion population. Today there are two recognized sub species of the lion, the African lion (P. leo) and the Asiatic lion (P. leo persica) with very little genetic difference between the two.
- It’s estimated there are fewer than than 35,000 lions left in Africa as 21st century humans continue the need to vanquish lions– even to the point of extinction, with illegal safaris and canned hunts. Let’s remember Cecil of Hwange National Park by ensuring there are no more “Cecils” butchered by hunters and poachers.
Chauvet Cave Paintings 36,000 years old
The Lion in Egypt
Lions in Literature and Fable
“ONCE when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. “Pardon, O King,” cried the little Mouse: “forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?” The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters, who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, sent up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. “Was I not right?” said the little Mouse.”
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a high fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950. It was the first published of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) and the best known; among all the author’s books. The lion Aslan was the true King of Narnia, who sacrifices himself to save Edmund.
Lions in Art
The lion is featured in this 1514 engraving of St. Jerome, with a sleeping dog nearby. Both animals are part of the Golden Legend of Jerome’s story (c.1260)
The Canova Lions, located in front of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, are copies of a pair of lions sculpted by Antonio Canova in 1792 for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in Saint Peter’s in Rome
BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
Panthera’s President Dr. Luke Hunter highlights the greater threats that are wiping out Africa’s lion populations, and how we can fight these threats to save the African lion. (In Slate Magazine)
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University: David Macdonald is part of a team of scientists at the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit in the United Kingdom that was studying Cecil when he was hunted down. Read about their tracking and conservation efforts.
Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, shows the actual cave paintings inside Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc.