Genetics unveil history of lions, resurrection of extinct Barbary lion subspecies possible: Study


Scientists may soon be able to bring back the Barnaby lion from the grave. The extinct lion once roamed the relatively cooler regions of North Africa and was known for its long, dark mane.

A team of scientists from various countries have been able to gather genetic evidence linking lions in India to the extinct Barnaby lion (Panthera Leo). After analyzing genetic data on the Indian lions, the scientists found that genetic links to the extinct species. The researchers say that the process of "reseeding" the lions in India may be the key to bringing back the Barnaby Lion. The researchers published their findings in the online journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

"The lion (Panthera leo, sensu lato) had one of the largest geographical distributions of any terrestrial mammal during the Late Pleistocene, ranging from southern Africa (Panthera leo ssp.), through northern Eurasia (Panthera leo spelaea), to Central America (Panthera leo atrox)," says the study. "However, studies of the lion's population history are made challenging by its sparse African Pleistocene fossil record, as well as large-scale, human-driven extirpations in many parts of its historical range."

The Barnaby lion roamed the mountainous regions in North Africa. These lions were also known to roam the Atlas Mountains from Tunisia to Morocco, which is why they are also sometimes referred to as Atlas Mountains. The last Barnaby lion in the wild was supposedly shot in the vicinity of the Tizi n' Tichka pass in Morocco. However, captive Barnaby lions survived in various museums until recent times. 

Barnaby lions were also kept in the Tower of London Zoo. A number of lions were also kept by the royal families of Ethiopia and Morocco as "royal lions." However, many of these lions interbred with other lion species and the Barnaby lion is also considered to be extinct in captivity as well. While the species is considered as extinct, many modern lions in various locations may have had Barnaby lion forefathers.

The scientists who worked on the study analyzed genetic material from Indian lions as well as DNA extracted from Barnaby lion skulls found in the Tower of London. The evidence they gathered proved that the Indian lions are indeed very closely related to the North African lions prompting talks about reviving the species.

"International bodies currently recognize only two lion conservation units: African and Asian lions. The data clearly show that Asian lions are nested within the diversity present in Central, West and North Africa," the study says. "Of particular concern are the central African and western African populations, which may be close to extinction, with estimates of 800 lions in West Africa and 900 lions in Central Africa. The close phylogenetic relationships among Barbary, Iranian, and Indian lion populations are noteworthy given their considerable geographical separation. The restoration of the extinct North African Barbary lion has attracted the attention of conservationists both inside and outside North Africa."

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