Spotted Lion

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Unknown big Cat of East and Central Africa.

Scientific name: Panthera leo maculatus, given by Bernard Heuvelmans in 1955.

Variant names: Abasambo (in Ethiopia), Bakanga, Bung bung (in Cameroon), IKIMIZI, Marozi (Gikuyu/Bantu word, possibly meaning "solitary lion"), Ntarargo.

Physical description: Smaller than a lion but larger than a leopard. Body length, 5 feet 10

inches. Tawny color. Covered with grayish-brown spots or rosettes on the back, sides, and legs. Spine is free of spots. Diameter of rosettes, 2-3 inches. Lionlike face. Male has a slight mane of side-whiskers. Retractile claws. Tail, 2 feet 9 inches.

Behavior: Usually travels in lion-lioness pairs or small prides. Will attack cattle.

Tracks: Catlike, in size between those of a leopard and those of a lion. Thinner than those of a young lion.

Habitat: Forested mountains. Distribution: Mount Kenya, the Aberdare Range, and the Mau Escarpment in Kenya; Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda; Virunga Vol-canos area, Rwanda; Ethiopia; Cameroon; Ubangi region, Central African Republic.

Significant sightings: Naturalist A. Blayney Percival shot a Spotted lioness and her cubs in Kenya in 1924.

Game warden R. E. Dent saw four large, spotted cats in 1931 on Mount Kenya at an altitude of 10,000-11,000 feet. A few months later, his trappers in the Aberdare Range, Kenya, snared a cat that looked like a cross between a lion and a leopard, but they let it go.

In the 1930s, at an altitude of 10,000 feet, Michael Trent shot two small Spotted lions, a male and a female, that had raided his farm in the Aberdare Range, Kenya. He preserved the skins but not the skulls or skeletons.

In 1935, Kenneth Gandar Dower headed an expedition into the Kenya highlands to look for the Spotted lion, but all he managed to find were some unusual tracks at an elevation of 12,500 feet.

Present status: Probably extinct in Kenya, since there have been no sightings since the 1930s. Possible explanations:

(1) The appearance of spots could be a trick of light and shadow in some instances.

(2) A subspecies of Lion (Panthera leo) adapted to mountainous terrain might have developed spots for camouflage and a smaller size for more agility. Gandar Dower hoped this would turn out to be the case, if the animal was not a completely new species.

SPOTTED LIONS shot by Michael Trent in the 1930s in the Aberdare Range, Kenya. From a painting by William M. Rebsamen. (William M. Rebsamen/Fortean Picture Library)

(3) Rare occurrences of adult lions retaining their juvenile spots are known.

(4) A male Leopard (P. pardus) x lioness hybrid, called a Leopon, was first bred in captivity at the Koshien Zoo in Nishinomiya, Japan, in November 1959. This hybrid is heavily spotted, has a poorly developed mane, and is intermediate in size between a leopard and a lion. However, such an animal's occurrence in the wild is unlikely due to behavioral and distribution differences.

(5) A population of Somali lions (P. I. somaliensis) that migrated from Somalia to Kenya and developed spotted coats, suggested by W. Robert Foran.

Sources: Charles R. S. Pitman, A Game Warden among His Charges (London: Nisbet, 1931); Charles J. McGuinness, Nomad (London: Methuen, 1934); Kenneth C. Gandar Dower, "In Quest of the Spotted Lion," The Field 166 (July 6, 1935): 21;

Kenneth C. Gandar Dower, The Spotted Lion (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937); G. Hamilton-Snowball, "Spotted Lions," The Field 192 (October 9, 1948): 412; J. R. T. Pollard, "Spotted Lions," The Field 192 (November 13, 1948): 553; W. Robert Foran, "Legendary Spotted Lion," The Field 196 (September 30, 1950): 535; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 365-372; Noel Simon, Between the Sunlight and the Thunder (London: Collins, 1962); John Pollard, African Zoo Man (London: Robert Hale, 1963); Gerhard Lindblom, The Akamba in British East Africa (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969); Bernard Heuvelmans, "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals with Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned," Cryptozoology 5 (1986): 1-16; Michael Goss, "In Search of Africa's Spotted Lion," Fate 39 (June 1986): 78-91; Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats ofthe World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 125-132;

Maxine Annabell, Detailed Information on Hybridisation in Big Cats: The Marozi, http://www.lairweb.org.nz/tiger/marozi.html.

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