Australia is known for its large amount of weird, scary, and potentially deadly animals. With boxing kangaroos, cute but aggressive wombats, and numerous deadly insects, this continent is full of beings that are rather to be avoided than petted. But what about the king of the steppe, the most majestic of large cats? Are there lions in Australia?
No, there are not. While the biggest part of the world’s lion population lives in Africa, there is also a small population of lions around the Gir Forest National Park in India. But in Australia, there are no wild lions and you will have to go to a zoo to pay a visit to these predators.
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The Asiatic lions in India have been first described in 1826 and have been listed as endangered ever since their discovery. Researchers believe that the Asiatic lion split off from the African lions about 186,000 years ago when it moved towards India.
After lions died out in Europe and the Middle East, the Asiatic lions had no connections with their origin country and evolved in isolation.
It might surprise you that at one point lions lived in Europe, but fossil finds have proven this was indeed the case during the Pleistocene (2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago) and the beginning of the Holocene, which is the current geological epoch that began about 12,000 years ago.
Aside from fossils, cave paintings like in the Lascaux and Chauvet Caves in France also depicted prehistoric lions. In ancient literature, like the Greek Iliad, there are mentions of lions, which shows that these animals were known to the people of the time. Of course, the Ancient Greeks undertook a lot of colonial expansion and brought back animals from their travels, too.
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What Are the Differences Between African and Asiatic Lions?
The foremost difference between these two lions is the size. Asian lions are slightly smaller than African lions. Another physical difference is that Asiatic lions have a shorter and darker mane than their African counterparts. Additionally, Asiatic lions have a longitudinal fold of skin under their bellies.
The behavior of the lions in Africa and India is also different. Asiatic lions tend to live in smaller groups, which in lions are called prides. A reason for this could be that not only do they hunt smaller animals, they also have a much smaller habitat.
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Which Predators Live in Australia?
Now that lions are out of the question, what other predators live on the Australian continent? The largest Australian land-based predator is the dingo, which also lives in Southeast Asia. This wild dog has descended from domesticated ancestors, but nowadays most dingos live in the wild.
While it is not impossible to domesticate a dingo and they can get used to being with humans, they are not bred selectively to be used as pets and therefore occupy a status between feral and domesticated animals.
They are closely related to wolves and as such have a strong pack mentality and need a lot of attention, which makes having a dingo for a pet a full-time job. In some places, like Tasmania or Queensland, it is even illegal to own a dingo as a pet. When most people think of dingos they imagine them with ginger fur, but there are also black and white dingos.
Dingos have found to eat at least 229 vertebrate species, as well as crustaceans, fish, frogs, and insects. They mostly focus on large mammals like kangaroos, though. They are also known for preying on livestock like cattle and sheep, which is why some sheep farmers keep donkeys that manage to keep dingos away.
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In Australia, dingos are considered pests, and the world’s longest fence has been erected specifically to keep dingos away from livestock. Built in the late 19th century, the Dingo Fence, which stretches over 3,000 miles, can still be visited today.
The dingo is an opportunistic eater and omnivore and will also consume fruits and vegetables when the opportunity presents itself.
Some dingos, especially young males, live alone, but they often also form packs of up to ten animals. In a pack, the dominant female often kills off the offspring of other breeding females to promote the primacy of her line.