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Barbary Lion


barbary lion

The Barbary Lion (Joseph Bassett Holder)


Barbary Lion; also known as Panthera leo leo, the Atlas Lion and the Nubian Lion


Plains of northern Africa

Historical Epoch:

Late Pleistocene-Modern (500,000-100 years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to 7 feet long and 500 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; thick mane


About the Barbary Lion:

Tracking the evolutionary relationships of the various subspecies of the modern lion (Panthera leo) can be a tricky affair. As far as paleontologists can tell, the Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo) evolved from a population of European Lions (Panthera leo europaea), which themselves descended from Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica), which are still extant, albeit in dwindling numbers, in modern-day India. Whatever its ultimate heritage, the Barbary Lion shares one dubious honor with most lion subspecies, having been wiped off the face of the earth by human encroachment.

Like many other recently extinct mammals, the Barbary Lion has a distinctive historical pedigree. Medieval Britons had an especial fondness for this big cat; during the Middle Ages, Barbary Lions were kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London, and these big-maned beasts were star attractions at swanky British hotels. In the latter part of the 19th century, while the species was being hunted to extinction in northern Africa, Britain's surviving Barbary Lions were transferred to zoos. Today, in captivity, a few surviving specimens harbor remnants of Barbary Lion genes, so it may yet be possible to selectively breed this big cat and reintroduce it into the wild, a program known as de-extinction.


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