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In Context #6 (Fall, 2001, pp. 12-14); copyright 2001 by The Nature Institute

What Forms an Animal?
Craig Holdrege

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 themselves—to 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