Barbary Lion

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mammals

iBarbary Lion

Conservation status

Extinct in the wild (EW)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. leo
Subspecies: P. l. leo
Trinomial name
Panthera leo leo
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Felis leo Linnaeus, 1758
Panthera leo berberisca

The Barbary Lion, Atlas lion or Nubian lion Panthera leo leo is a subspecies of lion that has become extinct in the wild. It was believed to be extinct in captivity. However, possible Barbary lion individuals or descendents have been located in zoos and circus populations within the last three decades. It is often considered to be the largest of the lion subspecies with males weighing between 400-650 lbs (181 to 295 kg) and females 270-400 lbs (120 to 181 kg), approximately the size of Bengal tigers. However, more recent research suggests that it is only slightly larger than modern African lion, which weighs approximately 420 lbs on average. The Barbary Lion, also called the Atlas lion or Nubian lion, formerly ranged in North Africa (from Morocco to Tunisia) and continuing until Egypt. The last known Barbary Lion in the wild was shot in the Atlas Mountains in 1922.

Unlike most African lions, the Barbary Lion was a mountain predator, preferring woodlands. The two other primary Atlas Mountain predators, the Atlas bear and Barbary leopard are now extinct or close to be, respectively.

The mane of " Scar," the villain of Disney's The Lion King, was based on a Barbary Lion.

Possible surviving individuals

There are several dozen individuals in captivity believed to be Barbary lions: Port Lympne Wild Animal Park has twelve specimens descended from animals owned by the King of Morocco. In addition, eleven animals believed to be Barbary lions were found in Addis Ababa zoo, descendants of animals owned by Emperor Haile Selassie.

In the past scientists believed that the distinct sub-species status of the Barbary lion was established by its seemingly fixed external morphology, particularly its heavier mane. However, it is now known that various extrinsic factors influence the colour and size of all lions' manes, such as ambient temperature. As the cooler ambient temperature in European and North American zoos has been found to produce Barbary-like manes on ordinary lions, this characteristic is now considered an inappropriate marker for identifying Barbary ancestry.

Despite this, Mitochondrial DNA research published in 2006 does support the distinctness of the Barbary lions as a sub-species. The results found a unique mtDNA haplotype to be present in some of those zoo specimens believed to be of Barbary descent. This may be a good molecular marker for identifying -- and excluding -- other potential Barbary lions. The mtDNA results revealed that five tested samples of lions from the famous collection of the King of Morocco are not, according to this criterion, maternally Barbary.

The Barbary Lion Project

The former popularity of the Barbary Lion as a zoo animal provides the only hope to ever see it again in the wild in North Africa. After years of research into the science of the Barbary Lion and stories of surviving examples, WildLink International, in collaboration with Oxford University, launched their ambitious International Barbary Lion Project. They are using the very latest DNA techniques to identify the DNA 'fingerprint' of the Barbary Lion subspecies. WildLink International has taken bone samples from remains of Barbary Lions in Museums across Europe, like those in Brussels, Paris, Turin and others. These samples are returned to Oxford University where the science team is extracting the DNA sequence that identifies the Barbary as a separate subspecies. Although the Barbary is officially extinct, WildLink International had identified a handful of lions in captivity around the world that are descended from the original Barbary Lion, like the royal lions in Temara Zoo in Rabat, Morocco. These descendants will be tested against the DNA fingerprint and the degree of any hybridisation (from crossbreeding) can then be determined. The best candidates will then enter a selective breeding programme that will 'breed back' the Barbary Lion. The final phase of the project will see the lions released into a National Park in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. WildLink International can not be reached anymore and their website is nowadays offline. Everyone is in the dark as to what happened to WildLink International. WildLink International and the University of Oxford had made the deal that WildLink International would raise money for the project and that the university would do the research. With the disappearance of WildLink International no money was raised. Dr. Noboyuki Yamaguchi, a scientist from the University of Oxford, has used his own funding for as long as possible to further the scientific research on Barbary Lions and its genetics. The project is now indefinitely on hold until the funds can be raised.

Asian Relative

In 1968, a study on the skulls of the Barbary, extinct Cape, Asiatic, and other African lions showed that the same skull characteristics - the very narrow postorbital bar - existed in only the Barbary and the Asiatic lion skulls. This shows that there may have been a close relationship between the lions from Northernmost Africa and Asia. It is also believed that the South European lion that became extinct at the beginning in A.D. 80-100, could have represented the connecting link between the North African and Asiatic lions. It is believed that Barbary lions possess the same belly fold (hidden under all that mane) that appears in the Asian lions today.

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