|A typical lion from either West or Central Africa|
A recent study has shown that lions in West and Central Africa maybe remarkably different from their cousins in eastern and southern parts of the continent. Researchers analyzed a region on the mitochondrial DNA of lions in Africa, including extinct subspecies like the Atlas lion, and India. The results indicated that those in Central and West Africa seem to be more related to their Asiatic brethren. A previous research had already shown that lions in Central and West Africa are smaller in size and weight, have smaller manes, live in smaller prides, feast on smaller prey, and perhaps have a different shape in skull. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove these lions' relationship with the ones in India. The current research findings show that difference is also seen in the genetic makeup.
Another difference between lions in West and Central Africa, and those in eastern and southern parts can be partially explained by their geographic locations which are separated by barriers such as the Central African rainforests and the Great Rift Valley. There is even an aspect of climatological history explaining West and Central Africa's lions' genetic position. It was scientifically thought that a local extinction had occurred, followed by periods of severe droughts 18,000 to 40,000 years ago. During that period, lions ranged east into Asia where conditions in the Middle East were sufficiently favorable to sustain their populations. The data showed that West and Central African regions were recolonized by lions from areas close to India, which explains the genetic similarities between lions from those two areas.
I'm extremely surprised to see that some African lions happen to very much resemble their Asiatic counterparts. In fact, the picture above of the lion from either West or Central Africa really does resemble an Asiatic lion at first glance. Its mane is definitely shorter, but the only difference is that its belly skin is not hanging loose like its oriental cousin. This, in my opinion, goes to show that West and Central Africa's lions still count as subspecies of the African lion. While it seems like a success story for scientists and researchers, the current state of the lion population in Central and West Africa is different. It is thought that there are about 1700 of these magnificent beasts left in those regions, which is less than ten percent of the estimated total lion population in Africa. According to the article, the numbers are still diminishing; largely due to persecution by farmers, habitat loss, and loss of natural prey. I feel that, in order to further study these lions, strict protection must be enforced. At the same time, farmers should be helped such that they do not lose their livestock to these animals and anti-poaching patrols must be put into action to protect the local wildlife. Furthermore, the locals should be educated on the ecological importance of these lions and what makes them special in Africa.
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