The marozi, or spotted lion, is an alleged variety of lions native to the Aberdare mountain (Kikuyu language: Nyandarua) range of west-central Kenya, north of Nairobi.
The region, with an average elevation of 11,500 feet (3500 meters), is an example of a mountain ecosystem.
Reports of marozi-like felids also come from the Mau escarpment in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.
Other possible habitats occur in Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Central African Republic (George Eberhart, 2002).
The marozi is also known as the “spotted lion” because they are alleged lion-like felids with spotted coats.
Marozi have rosette markings
Skin and skull specimens of a pair of marozis killed in the Aberdare mountain range in 1931 provided circumstantial evidence of their existence.
The coat led to speculation that marozis are natural hybrids of lions and leopards. However, experts said lions and leopards were unlikely to interbreed spontaneously in the wild.
Instead of being a lion x leopard hybrid, some experts speculated that the marozi–if it exists–is more likely a distinct species or subspecies of lions characterized by adults retaining juvenile spots.
Alleged eyewitness descriptions of the marozi suggest they are smaller than regular lions but exceed leopards in size. The male marozi also lacks a mane.
Richard Meinertzhagen, a British soldier and naturalist who described the marozi in 1903, said they had dark coats and rosette markings.
The cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans named them Panthera leo maculatus in 1955 (George Eberhart, 2002).
Sightings suggest that marozis traveled as male-female pairs or in small prides.
British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock (1863-1947) of the London Natural History Museum examined the skin of one of two alleged marozis killed by the European-Kenyan farmer Michael Trent in 1931.
He described it as belonging to a male individual about 5ft 10/11 inches from head to the end of the body. The tail was nearly 2 feet 9 inches long, making 8 feet 8 inches.
He noted that adult East African lions often exceed 10 feet. Thus, the alleged marozi individual was a small adult or a young animal growing to full size.
The marozi had a small mane with tawny, grey, and black hair. The skin had a distinct pattern of spots that Pocock described as “jaguarine” rosettes with pale greyish-brown color and dark centers.
The spots occurred in oblique vertical lines reaching over the flanks, shoulders, and thighs to the spinal area. The legs also had solid rather than rosette spots.
Trent did not preserve the skull of the marozis he killed. However, after game officials showed interest, he returned to where he shot the animals and found one nearby. He submitted it along with the skin.
Pocock observed that the skull sutures were still open. Thus, he concluded that it belonged to a juvenile individual.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that marozis exist in the wild or may have existed in the past. However, experts have not found conclusive evidence.
Because there haven’t been any recent reports from Africa, cryptozoologists believe the marozi is probably extinct.
However, experts speculate that if marozis exist, their adaptation to regions of higher elevation at lower latitudes may explain the traits distinguishing them from regular lions native to the savanna plains of Africa and Asia.
Mountain ecosystems, characterized by dense forests or lush grasslands, may occur on the slopes of mountains at moderate elevations.
Ecologists sometimes refer to such ecosystems as montane.
Mountain environments are cooler than contiguous lowland environments because temperature decreases with elevation. Thus, mountain ecosystems host flora and fauna markedly different from the surrounding lowland regions.
At moderate elevations, forest cover may be denser due to higher rainfall. But at higher elevations, lower temperatures and high winds may transform dense forests and lush grassland into barren lands with little or no vegetation cover.
Zoologists believe that the differences between mountain and savanna ecosystems may explain the unique adaptative differentiation of the marozi.
Sightings and Tales
European explorers and colonists learned about the marozi from native Africans in the 19th century. Soon after, European travelers and explorers claimed to have sighted them too.
In 1906, the British hunter W.R. Foran reported shooting a male-female marozi pair. He thought they were lions, but their unusual coat markings suggested otherwise. Both had spotted coats, and the male did not have a mane.
Captain Blayney Percival
Captain Blayney Percival, a game warden, reported shooting a marozi lioness with cubs in 1924. He said that both the lioness and cubs were spotted. He also noted that the adult lioness’s spots were no less prominent than the spots on the cubs.
In 1923, G. Hamilton-Snowball reported seeing a pair of marozis while exploring the Kinangop Plateau at about 11,500 feet (3,500 m) elevation.
He tried to shoot them, but they escaped.
Captain R. E. Dent
In 1931, Captain R.E. Dent, an Aberdare mountain range game warden, reported sighting four marozis or spotted lions at about 10,000 feet. He observed that the lions were not as big as regular lions and had darker coats.
A few months later, an assistant reported that one of their traps caught an unusual felid that appeared to be intermediate between a leopard and a lion.
However, they reportedly let it go.
In 1931, a European farmer Michael Trent shot and killed two felids on his farm on the Aberdare mountain range.
According to Trent, he shot the animals after they approached a waterbuck used as bait. Although Trent preserved the skins, he did not realize they were unusual until a game official saw them.
The official showed the skin to his superiors, who realized they were worthy of attention.
The animals appeared to be small-sized adult lions with spotted coats. One skin belonged to a female and the other to a male. The male didn’t have a mane, only small whiskery hair.
The skins generated interest because adult lions usually don’t have spotted coats. Spots occur only in lion cubs.
In 1933, the British explorer Kenneth Gandar-Dower (1908–1944) and Raymond Hook led an expedition to the Aberdare mountain range to find the legendary marozi.
They talked to the natives, who confirmed a population of big cats that were neither lions nor leopards. They then searched at elevations of about 10,000 to 12,500 feet but did not encounter any marozi or find direct evidence of one.
However, they found tracks that suggested big cats tracking buffalos. The pawprints allegedly belonged to a felid bigger than a leopard but smaller than the average lion.
In his book Nomad (1934), author C.J. McGuinness reported that the naturalist Carl Hagenbeck claimed to have sighted a marozi.
Wildlife experts agree that evidence for the existence of the marozi is circumstantial and thus inconclusive.
Raymond Hook, a member of Gandar-Dower’s expedition to the Aberdare mountains, was openly skeptical. Although he agreed that a “race” of small-sized felids adapted to the mountainous environment was possible, he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to conclude they existed.
Prominent experts in African wildlife, including Colonel C. R. S. Pitman, agreed with Hook.
The Swiss naturalist and wildlife photographer Charles Albert Walter Guggisberg was even more dismissive. He declared in the 1960s that he was sure the marozi didn’t exist because no one could provide conclusive evidence.
The following are the possible candidates for the elusive marozi:
The British zoologist R.I. Pocock noted that Michael Trent’s alleged mazori skulls appeared to belong to a young felid that hadn’t reached adult size. Thus, it was possible that the skin spots weren’t permanent.
Major W. Robert Foran, author of The Legendary Spotted Lion (1950), suggested that the marozi might be a migrant population of Somali lions (Panthera leo somaliensis) with a high incidence of spotted individuals.
Adult lions retaining juvenile spots
Only lion cubs usually have spots. But there are rare cases of adult individuals retaining them. Marozi sightings might have been due to such individuals.
A leopon is a male leopard (Panthera pardus) and lioness cross.
People have bred leopons in captivity. The first known case was one produced at a Japanese zoo in 1959. However, no known cases occur in nature because lions and leopards usually don’t socialize in the wild.
Leopons have scanty manes but prominent spots. Individuals are intermediate in size between lions and leopards.
|Other Name/s||Spotted lion (English), Ntararago (Uganda), Ikimizi (Rwanda), Abasambo (Ethiopia), Foulempou, Ruturargo, Panthera leo maculatus (Bernard Heuvelmans), Aberdares Spotted Lion.|
Where to find
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Eberhart, George M. (2002).
The Spotted Lion by Kenneth Cecil Gandar-Dower, 1937.
http://messybeast.com/genetics/lions-spotted.htm, “Mutant big cats: Spotted and striped lions,” accessed on March 21, 2023.
https://jad.lu.ac.ir/article-1-188-en.pdf, “The lions of Somalia: a review of available morphological and socioecological data,” by Spartaco Gippoliti et al. (2022), accessed on March 21, 2023.
Featured Image: The marozi is a spotted lion native to the Aberdare mountain range of Kenya. Pic credit: Pixabay