05 April 2017
Geography of Lions
Extant lions are restricted to the African continent in the modern day. The extant populations of lions representing a number of recognized subspecies are dotted across the continent in areas that represent a very minor proportion of their historic range across Africa, Southern Europe, and Southwestern Asia. If we were to consider the cave lions as subspecies of the extant lions, as many have described their phylogeny, then the historic range of lions actually covered the majority of Europe, Asia, and portions of North America. We know the extent of their range because Eurasian Cave Lions have been recovered in various places and are well represented in cave art in a variety of locations across Europe and Asia. The North American subspecies (hereafter today I will refer to them as the American Lion) has been recovered in similar ways: as fossils, from glacial deposits, and a large population has been recovered from tar pits as well. The American Lion is known from a shorter temporal range than the Eurasian Cave Lion (340,000 - 11,000 years vs. 370,000 - 10,000 years respectively) and is considered endemic to North America. The American Lion, despite a smaller range and a shorter temporal span, was approximately 25% larger than extant Lions and 15% larger than Eurasian Cave Lions (which are in turn 10% larger than extant Lions) making it the largest of the lions, including the closest common ancestor between American and Eurasian lions, Panthera leo fossilis. This also means that the American Lion is, as many of these lions are, one of the largest known cats in the history of known felids. The size of the cat enabled it to take prey like the reindeer shown below, usually taken in the modern age by large bears or packs of wolves, for example.