LIONS (PANTHERA LEO) IN Egypt

Principle Threats

Trade in Lions

Lions in Culture

Lions have a long religious and cultural association in Egypt. They were worshipped, and often trained to run alongside the pharaoh’s chariot or safeguard his throne.  It is from Egypt that we have the first hunting data for lions as well as visible depictions of them.

Hunting lions was reserved for ruling pharaohs. The oldest hunting records are taken from carved hieroglyphics detailing the hunting prowess of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390 to 1353 BCE).  Here it is reported that he killed over 100 lions in the first decade of his reign (Jackson, 2010). 

Early representations of lions come from ancient Egypt.  Many of the ancient Egyptian god and goddesses were given lion attributes and were characterised in carvings and statues.  Lions usually lived on the edges of the desert, so they became known as the guardians where the sun rose and set.   As the lion is associated with the sun, most of these gods have connections with Ra, the sun god.  Bastest (or Bast) is often depicted with the head of a lion as a symbol of her royal prowess.  She was connected with joy, music, dancing and fertility (html).  Maahes was the lion-god of war and protection.  In death he protected the innocent but condemned the guilty (html). Sekhmet (pictured below) is represented as a lion-headed woman.  Her name means “powerful one”.  Lions were bred in temples dedicated to the gods, typically enjoying their own areas in which to roam (html).

Within Christianity the story of St Mary of Egypt tells of a repentant prostitute who dies in the desert, but is buried by a monk and a lion.

The ruling King was attributed with the martial qualities of the lion, indicating his strength and courage.  Lions were also considered a symbol of wealth. This royal relationship between lion and King is thought to have come from the tribal chiefs who hunted lion as well as other large carnivores such as crocodiles (html).

Egyptian sphinxes had the body of a lioness, wings of a bird and the head of the ruling pharaoh, to show their connection.  The most well-known is the Great Sphinx at Giza, which guards the road leading to King Khafre’s pyramid. It was built almost 5,000 years ago.  At the time of its construction, Khafre was the king of Egypt and it is therefore his head that adorns the Sphinx.  It measures 66 feet in height and over 240 feet in length. The sphinx has deteriorated over time, partly due to weather conditions but also vandalism.  There are reports of soldiers shooting at the Sphinx’s nose causing it to crumble.  Consequently, part of the sphinx’s face is now missing, but the beard can be seen in the British Museum.  A restoration programme was begun in the 1980s, but attempts have been fraught with difficulty (html)

The headrest that supports the tomb of the most well-known Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, features two lions lying back to back. On either side of a kneeling Shu, the god of air, they represent the two mountains between which the sun rises.  This back-to-back position represents the horizon on which the sun rises and sets, and has also come to symbolize yesterday and tomorrow (Jackson, 2010).

Lions featured in ancient Egyptian children’s toys.  A lion carved from wood, with a movable lower jaw on string was a popular choice  (html).  In modern Egyptian society, small carved lions made to resemble the original statues remain a common souvenir item.

In hieroglyphics, the lion was used to represent the letters R and W together. 

The Lions Club of Egypt was founded in 1917, and claims to be the largest voluntary organization in the world.  In its aims and goals it reports that humans can learn something from values displayed by lions, including leadership, teamwork and friendship (html)

Jackson, D. (2010) Lion.  London: Reaktion Books Ltd (book – purchase required)

Governing Body

Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency
30 Misr Helwan El-Zyrae Road
Cairo
Egypt
Email: eeaa@eeaa.gov.eg
http://www.eeaa.gov.eg

Mission

The mission for EEAA is stated as: 

“Prepare the national plans for environmental protection
Prepare the Emergency Environmental Plan for disasters
Prepare the draft laws concerning the environment
Implement the experimental projects
Prepare the Environmental Training and Planning policy
Draft the necessary norms and standards to ensure that the environment is not polluted
Formulate the basis and procedures for the assessment of environmental impacts of projects
Supervise the Environmental Protection and Development Fund”

Lions in the News

Miscellaneous

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