Thousands of years ago, before Egypt became the arid place we now know it as, it was once lush and green, and lions roamed its jungles. They were feared and revered by tribesmen, and seen as a symbol of power, and strength — the king of the jungle. To be caught in a tussle with a lion and to win was an incredible feat, and the skin would be given to kings as a gift.
As the climate changed and deserts overtook the country, however, the lions drew further back, and living on the edges of the desert they became known as the guardians of the eastern and western horizons, where the sun rose and set. But when the heat increased during the summer months, the lions would leave their posts to travel to the Nile in search of water. Can you imagine what a sight that must have been for the very earliest of the Ancient Egyptians to see these beasts come in their prides of as many as 40 lions to drink and feed at the river? Little wonder so many of the ancient statues and tombs in Egypt are flanked by stone lions. The sphinx itself has the body of a lion.
At those times, when constellations were being named, there was a collection of stars, including one particularly bright star, that would rise before dawn during the hottest period of the year when the Nile would flood and the lions were making their journey to the river. The Ancient Egyptians named that bright star, ‘the heart of the lion’ — in Arabic,”Qalb al-Asad — one of the four royal stars — and the stars that surrounded the heart formed the body of a lion, which is the zodiacal constellation, Leo. Today we refer to the brightest star in the constellation as Regulus (the king).
Now, however, there are no more lions in Egypt, and it is saddening to think that one day if humanity doesn’t act quickly to conserve the great cats, there may be no more lions left in Africa at all. In 2015, only 20,000 lions remained on Earth. Imagine in a few hundred years from now when people look skywards to Leo, and tell tales of this mighty creature that once roamed Africa weighing in at some 500 pounds with three-inch claws and a golden mane, how those listening might shake their head and call the lion simply a mythological creature — that it never existed.
Gazing up at Leo reminds us how animals are part of our human story and that we need to help preserve them, lest they be only be seen by future generations in the stars above. It also makes us wonder… Draco (the dragon) is immortalized in our night sky. Can it be possible dragons once existed, and aren’t just stuff of legend..?