American Lions

Artistic impression of three American Lions drinking water at the edge of Lake Otero.

NPS Photo

Fossil footprint of Feline.
Fossil foot print of Feline.

NPS Photo

During the ice age, lions lived in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the North America. The American Lion of North America stood as tall of a human child and as long as a small car. The body was heavy as a loaded washing machine and dryer and American lions had long slender legs with retractable claws. Scientist do not know if the American lion had manes. Their large size with sharp teeth and claws would have made them a scary sight.

The longer legs would have allowed them to run as fast as a car travelling down a city road. American lions would have hunted other ice age animals including camels, ground sloths, young mammoths or possibly even humans. Scientist do not know if the American lion hunted by itself or in groups. American lions walked all across North America. Fossils reveal themselves from Canada to as far south as Mexico. The Rancho La Brea tar pits in California also contains many examples of American lions.

Before the sand dunes of White Sands formed, many of the animals the American lion hunted lived along the freshwater shores of Lake Otero. Today, we find their fossilized footprints left on the old lakebed of Lake Otero. American lions roamed across North America for thousands of years. Around 10,000 years ago, they went extinct, alongside many other ice age animals. The exact reasons are unknown. Their demise may have been due to human actions, climate change, or both. Whatever the cause, the reign of the lions in North America ended with the ice age.


"American Lion, Panthera atrox." San Diego Zoo Global. Last updated November 2008. Accessed November 1, 2015.

Lange, Ian M. Ice Age Mammals of North America: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2002.

Last updated: January 22, 2020

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