Sultan the Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo) at the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo)
The Barbary or Atlas lion was at one point one of the three major predators of North Africa and the Atlas mountains, the other two being the Atlas bear (also extinct) and the Barbary leopard (critically endangered, likely to be extinct in the wild).
Barbary lions were the largest lion species, and the only one that did not live in prides - due to the scarcity of prey in their natural desert habitat, prides would have been unsustainable. Hunting pairs of younger males and pairs of females were occasionally observed, however. Because of their solidarity, the Barbary lions were said to be the quickest to anger, and the quickest to lash out in defense.
This apparently made them the perfect “ultimate opponent” in the Roman Colosseum - though their most well-known role may have been “mauling followers of Christ” (at least according to the Bible), they were rarely used for that purpose. The male Barbary lions were considered one of the few animal opponents worthy of battling elite battlers. Their thick, protective manes, size, and ferocity after being starved led to them winning a large number of their matches, even against accomplished battlers.
Image of Sultan from hand-tinted photograph on postcard. New York Zoological Park, 1905.