Monday, October 15, 2012

DNA Proves that Ethiopia's Lions are Genetically Distinct

An Ethiopian lion

It has been recently found that a pride of captive lions descended from the ones owned by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia are genetically distinct from other lions in Africa. The Ethiopian lion is characterized by a unique dark mane and is slightly smaller and more compact than other lions. Now, a DNA analysis has disclosed that it is also a distinct species. According to Dr. Michael York of the University of York, fifteen of the twenty lions in the Addis Ababa Zoo have shown to be a separate genetic group based on the DNA tests. He further added that the male individuals are the direct descendents of a group of seven lions and two lionesses captured from the wild for Emperor Selassie's zoo in 1948. In addition, these are the last remaining lions in the world to acquire such a distinctive dark mane. The two lions that shared a similar dark mane were the Barbary lion of North Africa and the Cape lion of South Africa, which are now extinct. Susann Bruche, the lead author of this study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, stated that it is crucial to preserve the genetic diversity of the Ethiopian lions in order to help the species as a whole.

I'm very much astounded by this discovery that Ethiopia's lions are genetically distinct from other lions in Africa. However, at the same time, I also feel it is extremely vital to conserve this species since its two dark-maned counterparts are already extinct. I think the Ethiopian lion is unique in a sense that it already possesses the dark mane upon reaching adulthood. Other lions also have dark manes, but their manes are usually lighter in color and turn dark as they age older. This could be the major difference between Ethiopian lions and other lions in Africa. With the disappearance of Barbary and Cape lions in the wilds of Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ethiopian lion is the only dark-maned lion left in the world. I very much hope that intensive efforts will be undertaken to ensure the survival of this newly distinct species, and prevent it from becoming extinct like its North and South African relatives.

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