Research reveals lost lion populations going unnoticed

Apr 11, 2013
Image: Wikipedia.

(Phys.org) —New research by conservationists from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent has revealed that not only could the now-extinct Barbary Lion have persisted until the 1960s in North Africa, but also that this unique sub-species towards the end of its existence was left unnoticed for over a decade.

Published in open access journal, PLoS ONE, the research found authentic records of lions existing in North Africa as late as 1956; considerably later than the well-quoted accounts of the 1920s and 1940s.

Using information gathered from old hunting records, photographs, , published articles and recent interviews, the research by Dr Simon Black and Dr David Roberts also revealed a 's behaviour does not change as populations get smaller. Instead lions continue to form prides even up until they become extinct.

Dr Black, Conservation Research Associate, said: 'Colonial hunters such as Sir Harry Johnston (who famously discovered the Okapi) embarked on trips to Algeria specifically to hunt the last Barbary Lions, but never saw them. Even though Johnston suspected a few lions still existed there in the early 1900s, he would never have guessed that a small population could have clung on for a further 50 years.'

Dr Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation, said: 'When a species becomes very rare as it heads towards extinction it can go unnoticed for a long period of time. Because of this it is unlikely that the last record of a species was the time it became extinct, it probably existed for years or even decades before finally disappearing.'

Using statistical models developed by Dr Roberts it is thought that the Barbary Lion may have survived into the 1960s. The few remaining lions descended directly from the Moroccan Royal Collection, and still living in a few zoos in Morocco and Europe, may therefore be more closely related to wild Barbary Lions than previously thought.

Dr Black added: 'The research will not only help us manage lions descended from the Moroccan Royal Collection, possibly the last of the Barbary Lions, but highlights the need for continued conservation of the extremely threatened and rarely observed remnant lion populations in Central and West Africa.'

'Examining the extinction of Panthera leo in North Africa and its implications for felid ' is published by PLoS ONE and is available online at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0060174

Explore further: PacifiCorp Energy pleads guilty in bird deaths (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

DNA confirms genetically distinct lion population for Ethiopia

Oct 11, 2012

(Phys.org)—A team of international researchers has provided the first comprehensive DNA evidence that the Addis Ababa lion in Ethiopia is genetically unique and is urging immediate conservation action to preserve this vulnerable ...

Morocco mission to rescue last of the Atlas lions

Oct 03, 2012

Almost a century after a French colonial hunter put a bullet in what came to be viewed as the last Atlas lion living in the wild, a Moroccan zoo is struggling to claw the fabled subspecies back from the brink ...

Scientists say the American lion is not a lion after all

May 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- There has been some debate over the last century or so about whether the extinct American lion, Panthera atrox, which dates from the Pleistocene, is related to present day African lions (Panthera le ...

Recommended for you

Study finds tropical fish moving into temperate waters

Dec 19, 2014

Tropical herbivorous fish are beginning to expand their range into temperate waters – likely as a result of climate change – and a new international study documents the dramatic impact of the intrusion ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.