The Cryptid Zoo: Marozi

This photograph of a leopon, a lion/leopard hybrid, shows characteristics also reported in the marozi. I do not know who owns the copyright to this photograph.The marozi, or spotted lion, is a mystery cat of eastern Africa. Unlike most cryptids, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly absurd about it. It is biologically quite plausible, and it doesn't seem to have any supernatural powers or other weird characteristics from folklore. Unfortunately, this cryptid is probably no longer out there to be discovered. Sightings of it died out several decades ago, and there seems to be little hope that any marozis are still roaming the mountains.

How did the marozi become spotted? To answer this question, we must first examine the spots that exist in regular lions. Normal lion cubs have spots much like a leopard, but instead of black spots on an orange background, they have brown spots on a tan background. Otherwise, the pattern is the same. They only have these spots when they are young. As lions mature, they quickly lose their spots. Sometimes adult lions have a few "ghost" spots that are barely visible, because they are darker tan on plain tan and therefore only show with close inspection, but for the most part, the lion is assumed to be an unspotted animal.

The marozi looks like a lion, but it is spotted as an adult. Like lion cubs, they possess spots that are easily visible, being brown on a tan background. According to native folklore, large numbers of marozis inhabited the Aberdare Mountains from ancient times until about 30 years ago, when they were killed off. Marozi skins and skulls were secured before the last of them presumably died out. According to the testimony of trackers and hunters, the marozi is smaller than a normal lion and males may have a truncated mane.

Because of the existence of skins and skulls, the marozi was obviously a real animal. The only question is exactly what it was. I will start with the most prosaic possibilities and gradually move to the more daring explanations. One idea is that the marozi was simply a mutation, like the white lions that show up regularly in some areas due to a recessive gene. Since it would only need a small change to retain cubhood spots as an adult lion, this possibility is quite likely, and if it could be proved, it would also mean that the animal would no longer be of interest to cryptozoologists. Cryptozoologists are not interested in freaks and mutations of a known species, unless those animals happen to fulfill the requirements for being their own subspecies.

Another possibility is that the marozi was a separate subspecies of lion with a pedigree dating back a thousand years or more. There is no biological reason why there couldn't have been a spotted, mountain-dwelling subspecies of lion. As far as cryptids go, the marozi as a subspecies of lion is a rather likely animal.

A third possibility is that the marozi qualified as its own species. Since it looks so similar to a lion, it seems unlikely that this could have been true.

The fourth possibility is that the marozi was actually a hybrid swarm of leopons. A hybrid swarm is a population of fertile hybrids between two species that formed naturally in nature without human assistance. A leopon is a lion-leopard hybrid, a creature that was long thought to be impossible, or infertile if it did occur. Recently, it has been discovered to exist, and to be fertile too. As far as science knows, leopons have only occurred in captivity, not in the wild, but there is no reason why such a hybrid swarm couldn't form under the right circumstances. Once formed, the hybrid swarm could maintain itself, provided that these hybrid animals had characteristics that met some niche in the habitat where they lived. Leopons look exactly like the descriptions of marozi, even in the details such as smaller manes on males and a size that is intermediate between lions and leopards.

If this is true, it means that the marozi is of little interest to cryptozoologists, because they are for the most part interested in actual species or subspecies. However, it would also mean that the story of the marozi is not tragic, because we could have more marozis whenever we wanted, as long as leopards and lions continue to survive. Even if humans never interfered to re-create marozis, marozis could return on their own someday. All we would need to do is restore the wild habitats of Africa, and then some century hence the miracle of a naturally-produced hybrid swarm might bring the marozi back to prown the Aberdare Mountains once more.

You can find out more about the Marozi and/or Leopons from the following sources:

Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Pages 153-154
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review copy.

Dower, Kenneth. The Spotted Lion.

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 262-263

Wikipedia, The. Leopon

Wikipedia, The. Marozi

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The text on this page is copyright 2005 by Jamie Hall. Please use proper citation if you are using this website for research.