Since prehistoric times, lions have roamed most of the Earth. Not anymore. Most are extinct, with sub-species found only in Africa below the Sahara and in India. But what about mountain lions — also called pumas, cougar, panthers and other names — found from Alaska to the southern part of South America? They aren’t lions, but are more closely related to house cats.
Lions have long been a popular part of human culture.
Because the “King of the Beasts” is seen as a symbol of royalty, stateliness, courage, strength, power and fierceness — among other attributes — many cultures have sought to be identified with the lion.
Lion statues, paintings, carvings, figurines and other images are common but vary greatly in interpretation — some realistic, others fanciful — but almost always with a positive connotation.
Some of the entities that identify with the lion are sports teams, businesses, social organizations, national flags, heraldry coats-of-arms and banners, deities, people and places.
Mountain lions are elusive and secretive by nature and don’t have such a lofty image and appreciation — except perhaps with some indigenous groups. Native Americans often include them in their mythology, calling them “the spirit of the mountains.”
But some tribes say, “seeing a cougar or hearing its screams is an evil omen, and…often associated with witchcraft.” However, in South America the Quechan (Incans) are more positive, associating the cougar with wealth and the Earth, and consider it lucky just to see one.
In North America, Eastern tribes such as the Seminoles and Shawnees view cougars as noble animals with “powerful hunting medicine.”
The earliest depictions of lions were found drawn on walls of ancient caves in France, and lion carvings found in Germany are said to be up to 39,000 years old.
Egyptian tombs dating back some 5,000 years also show lion images. The Sphinx, that is a human head on a lion’s body (the face said to have been mutilated by Napoleon’s soldiers using it for canon practice, but might also have been done by a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr in 1378) was once worshipped and brought presents in hopes of good harvests.
Lions may be the world’s most popular animal image — even in the Far East where there have never been lions. That may be the reason that Asian lion images look so fanciful.
The lion is well-known as a Judeo-Christian symbol — the Bible mentioning “lion” or derivative words more than a hundred times.
The lion is the central figure in the coat of arms of Jerusalem, representing “The Lion of Judah” — one of the 12 tribes of Israel — with Jesus as one of its members.
In Italy, a 15-foot bronze statue of a winged lion stands atop a column of Egyptian granite in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, overlooking the lagoon. It was erected during the 12th century and became the symbol of the Republic of Venice and Mark, its patron saint.
The lion symbolism is from the Prophet Ezekiel who had a vision of four winged creatures representing the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Again in the Book of Revelation described Mark as a lion, Matthew a human, Luke a bull and John as an eagle. Also, Mark wrote that John the Baptist’s voice sounded like a roaring lion when he heard the Word of God.
Western heraldry is resplendent with lion images (also often fanciful), symbolizing leonine qualities. According to Jana Garai’s “Book of Symbols,” “The lion is a common charge (symbol on a shield on a coat of arms) in heraldry. It traditionally symbolises courage, nobility, royalty, strength, stateliness and valour, because historically it has been regarded as the ‘king of beasts.’”
While there is no expectation that the lion with all its imagery and connotation will disappear from world cultures, real-life lions are in danger of extinction — as well as their New World mountain lion cousins.
Humane Society CEO Kitty Block blames American trophy hunters for being the biggest danger to African lions, claiming that they are killing hundreds of animals each year for their parts. The society and other animal rights groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list all lions as endangered.
“This decision puts the United States in a much stronger position,” Block says, “to play a productive role in the conservation of lions, who have suffered a 60 percent population decline across much of Africa and now number fewer than 30,000 due to habitat loss and human-caused killing.
“American trophy hunters are directly responsible for slaughtering at least 5,647 lions in the last 10 years.”
Could the big cats in America face similar dangers?
Yes, says the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation. “Mountain lions are in peril. Our nation is on the verge of destroying this apex species upon which whole ecosystems depend.”
Calling hunting mountain lions “morally unjustified,” the MLF brands the killings just to prevent conflicts as “ineffective and dangerous.”
They call on governments to “base decisions upon truthful science, valid data, and the highest common good.”
As shootings swiftly draw well-publicized rage from gun control advocates, mountain lion (cougar) attacks — even though they are rare — also fire up government wildlife entities and hunters. The refrain is always the same: ban guns, and euthanize dangerous predator animals in the name of “public safety.”
Last May, the Seattle Times reported that 32-year-old S.J. Brooks of Seattle was killed by a cougar while cycling on a trail northeast of North Bend, Wash. It was the first fatal cougar attack in Washington state in 94 years. Wildlife officers tracked down an emaciated 3-year-old male cougar; chased it up a tree and shot him.
There was no mention of an option of tranquilizing and relocating the animal.
Four months later in Oregon, a search and rescue team found the body of 55-year-old Diana Bober, who was reported missing after she went hiking near Mount Hood. The coroner said she’d been killed by a cougar.
Sgt. Brian Jensen of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said Oregon wildlife officials are attempting to find and kill the animal.
There are about 6,600 cougars in Oregon, with state wildlife officers handling some 400 complaints a year.
Oregon law permits landowners or law-enforcement officials to kill cougars “when they pose a threat to human safety or cause damage to livestock or agricultural crops.”
Hunters can also hunt them if they buy a permit.
In Idaho, hunters may “harvest” up to two mountain lions per person during the eight-month season from August to March. Once the quota of 126 females is filled (statewide), only males can be hunted. There are no quotas in the Panhandle.
The state’s standard adult resident hunting fee is $13.75.
Like Oregon and other states, Idaho has its share of complaints about cougars in urban areas.
It would seem that the humane thing to do with so-called “nuisance animals” would be to tranquilize them and relocate them, rather than kill them. But research has shown that relocated animals could disrupt the existing ecology — and may not survive in their new environment, not knowing the area’s food and shelter resources, and other competing animals.
There’s also the stress factor, plus the possibility of bringing new diseases into the relocation area.
There are no easy answers and there are a multitude of variables to consider. Nevertheless, it’s a problem worthy of continuing study.
In the meantime, visitors to wildlife habitats should know what’s in there and how to protect themselves against hazardous situations. Likewise, farmers, ranchers and residents living near wildlife areas where predators could be a problem should install protective measures for their livestock, pets and themselves.
Lions elsewhere in the world are in even greater danger. The Times in London says, “The Far East’s growing demand for animal body parts will fuel the export of 1,500 lion skeletons from South Africa to Asia over the next year, filling a gap in the market left by moves to protect endangered tiger species.
“South Africa’s legal and controversial lion-bone trade began a decade ago, mostly to meet the shortfall in tiger body parts that have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries as cures for ills including ulcers, malaria and a diminished libido.”
Not needing protection is the symbolism of the noble lion.
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Contact Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hollywood helps save wildlife…
For a list of Hollywood celebrities supporting animal rights, log into: https://thepetwiki.com/wiki/famous_animal_rights_activists/
Idaho mountain lions…
“Idaho is one of the few states that doesn’t allocate resources to making any official estimate on the number of mountain lions residing within the state. This may be a political move, as a population estimate could raise the possibility of public scrutiny and accompanying criticism of their exceptionally high annual hunting quotas. Despite this lack of population monitoring, IDFG estimates that hunting accounts for 80% of all mountain lion mortality.”
— Mountain Lion Foundation
Saving the big cats…
“Founded in 1986 to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions in California, the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) has grown into a national, non-profit conservation and education organization dedicated to protecting mountain lions and their habitat. MLF has inspired citizens across the nation to act on behalf of lions and their habitat by presenting practical solutions to complex problems, providing unbiased information to media, aiding local activists, promoting lion research, influencing regulation and changing laws.”
Lion of Idaho…
“I would sooner lose in a right cause than win in a wrong cause. As long as I can distinguish between right and wrong, I shall do what I believe to be right — whatever the consequences.”
— Sen. William E. Borah(R-Idaho), “Lion of Idaho”
Leo sun signs…
Astrologers rate those born under the Leo sun sign from July 23 to Aug. 21 as dominant, creative, extrovert, magnanimous, ambitious, courageous, dominant, strong-willed, positive, independent, self-confident, self-controlled, born leaders, uncomplicated, thriving on adversity, idealistic, intelligent and sometimes religious. On the dark side, Leos can be negative, haughty, temperamental, snobbish, overbearing, suspicious, cunning and intolerant.
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