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The lion: A victim of its own power?


Author: Mary Colwell / 原文:玛丽.科尔韦尔
Translator: tugan / 翻译:土干

Lions have padded their way through history, their beauty and physical prowess inspiring fear and respect. But despite a fascination with the creatures, humans have managed to wipe out one type of lion completely, writes Mary Colwell.

狮子以它们令人敬畏的美丽和强壮体格行走在历史的道路上。尽管这个猛兽令人迷恋,人类仍然使得狮子的一个种类完全绝迹。玛丽. 科尔韦尔写道。

The lion motif appears on the insignia of kings, cars, chocolate bars and rugby shirts – the giant media company MGM has famously used the roaring creature as its logo since 1924.

狮子的主题出现在很多徽章上,国王,汽车,巧克力饼干,橄榄球球衣 – 超级媒体公司 MRM 自1924年就醒目地使用了咆哮的狮子作为公司的标志。

Metro Goldwyn Mayer 公司标志

Lions are among the most popular subjects for natural history films, where every nuance of their lives is explored in detail. We never tire of the thrill of a hunt or seeing cubs playing around a dozing adult.


Leo the lion, the star constellation of the outgoing and showy, prowls the night sky. The embodiment of power and wealth, lions symbolise physical beauty, muscular prowess and majesty.

狮子Leo, 这个活力四射、华丽的星座,巡游夜空。狮子,这个权利和财富的化身,象征着体格健美,肌肉实力,威严。

Detail of a mosaic depicting the biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

Historically, Barbary lions, a sub-species of the lions, were particularly prized as the male was large and sported a long, thick black mane. The hair stretched from the head to the belly, giving it a magnificent profile. Everyone who wanted to show the world they had power wanted a Barbary lion.


Roman emperors desired them as pets and gladiators often found themselves face-to-face with them in the arena. Spectators revelled at the sight of human courage pitched against the embodiment of elegance and strength. The savagery of the lion made it a perfect agent of execution for criminals and Christians.


In medieval England Barbary lions were kept in the Tower of London. Their cages were so close to the entrance – Lion Gate – that no visitor could enter the realm of royalty without first staring into the amber eyes of a lion. The message was clear – this ruler even has the magnificent lion under control.

在中世纪的英格兰,巴巴里狮子圈养在伦敦塔,它们的笼子离大门——狮门——这么近,以至于来访者在进入皇家地界之前无法不看到那琥珀色的狮子的眼睛。 这个信息是明确的,那就是这个统治者居然掌控着彪悍的狮子。

The skulls of two male Barbary lions were found by workmen in a moat in the Tower in 1937. Carbon dating puts the animals as living between 1280 and 1385, giving us a glimpse of the physical condition of animals that lived in London 700 years ago.

1937年,工人在伦敦塔的护城河里发现两个巴巴里狮子的头骨。碳素年代测定这两只野兽生活在1280 至1385年间,让我们窥视到700年前生活在伦敦的动物的身体状况。

It turns out that the poor beasts were inadequately fed and malformed, dying at an early age.


The deformed hole in one of the skulls © The Trustees of NHM, London.

The hole where the spinal cord enters one of the skulls is deformed. “That should be a nice, well-formed, sub-circular shape,” says Richard Sabin, curator of mammals at the Natural History Museum in London. “But you can make out that at the top of the hole there’s an infilling of bone, it’s actually a pathology, a reaction to potentially some sort of nutritional stress. As the bone grew it would have put pressure on to the spinal cord and caused paralysis and blindness.”

由脊椎伸进头骨的洞已经变形,“那地方本应该是个完好的近似圆形。”伦敦自然历史博物馆馆长查理. 萨宾解释道。“但你可以推测到,在洞的顶部有一个填充骨头的地方,它实际是一个病态,就是一种潜在的营养压迫反应。当骨头生长时,这个地方就会压迫脊髓,造成瘫痪和失明。”

Not that this mattered to those who came to stare at them. What visitors saw was the epitome of majesty.


In the medieval mindset a lion was soaked in Christian meaning – it represented Christ the King, and it was firmly believed that lion cubs lay without form or identity in their den for three days after birth until they heard the roar of their father, which imbued them with life and energy. It was a clear reference to Jesus lying in the tomb waiting for his Father to call him to new life.

在中世纪的观念里,狮子富于基督教的意义。它代表着基督王位,人们相信幼狮出生在巢穴里三天后,听到它们父亲雄狮吼叫,才有形状和属性, 即才充满活力和能量。这明显地借鉴了耶稣躺在坟墓中等待天父的召唤才有了新的生命的情节。

The physical splendour of lions merged with the power of God and the grandeur of kings, gave medieval lions a unique position.


But the desire to own lions, Barbaries in particular, meant many were taken from their natural home in North Africa, and over the centuries their numbers fell dramatically. The invention of the gun and the popularity of sport hunting in the 19th Century further reduced numbers and the last wild Barbary lions were shot in the mid-20th Century.


The power of the lion, so desired by the elite of Europe, was its undoing.

Current research suggests there are no pure Barbaries left in captivity – but there are discussions about bringing them back using DNA from closely related species in India, or selectively breeding captive lions that contain Barbary genes.


The question remains though – why? Even if technically it were possible to see a pure Barbary lion once more, it would only ever be a curiosity and would never be able to roam North Africa again.

但问题仍然存在 – 为什么?假如技术上有可能再现纯种巴巴里狮子,那只不过仅仅是好奇心,巴巴里狮子再也不能漫迹于北非。

“Can we recreate their natural environment or has that changed for ever?” asks Sabin. “Or will they just be isolated examples of their species in a zoo that people pay to see?”


Today, the closest many people get to Barbary lions is in Trafalgar Square in central London, where four males cast in bronze guard the foot of Nelson’s Column. Designed by Landseer and installed in 1867, they remain a poignant reminder of our power to destroy what we most admire.


lions is in Trafalgar Square.

Richard Sabin, though, believes the remains of the dead Barbaries still have a role to play. “We decimated them and pushed them into extinction. The fact that we hold their remains in our museum collections means researchers have the opportunity to extract data and put them into a modern context and look at closely related species that may be heading for extinction and potentially halt and slow those extinctions.”

查理. 萨宾虽然相信死去的巴巴里保留着它的角色作用,“我们毁掉了它们并把它们推向绝迹。事实上我们在博物馆的收藏中保留了它们的遗骨,这意味着研究者们有机会发现数据并且将数据放在现代的资料里,然后密切观察它们的近亲,这样可以潜在地制止或减缓那些近于绝种的近亲种类。”

depicting an ancient Assyrian lion hunt circa 700 BC.


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