(Fall, 2001, pp. 12-14); copyright 2001 by
The Nature Institute
What forms an animal? A likely answer these days is "genes." Or perhaps:
"genes and environment." Such high-level abstractions reveal how little
we actually know and tend to discourage further inquiry. When I hear "genes
and environment" I yearn for something more concrete, something I can
mentally take hold of. And the only way I know to develop such saturated
concepts is to get back to the things themselvesto look carefully
at what nature presents and inch my way toward a more full-toned understanding.
Wild and Captive Lions
A few years ago I came across a remarkable article written in 1917 by N.
Hollister, then superintendent of the National Zoo in Washington, DC. (See
end of this article.) He was studying
the lion specimen collection at the National Museum, which encompassed over
100 lion skulls and skins. Hollister noticed marked differences between
wild-killed specimens and those that had lived for a number of years at
the Washington zoo. He proceeded to make a more detailed comparative study.
Since lions from different areas of the world and also