Thursday, April 3, 2014

India May Soon Help Bring Back the Barbary Lion from Extinction

A Barbary lion in Algeria circa 1913.

It has recently been announced that an international team of scientists has confirmed through DNA tests that Asiatic lions are genetically related to the extinct Barbary lions. This indicates that "reseeding" India's lions may bring back the Barbary lions from extinction and reintroduce them into their former range in North Africa. This research was started by Dr. Ross Barnett of Copenhagen University during his days at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He sequenced the DNA from two Barbary lion skulls that were discovered in a moat of the Tower of London and dated to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in order to expose and understand the origin of modern lions. Upon discovering the astonishingly close relationship between the Barbary lion and Asiatic lion, he stated that this could get conservationists to begin discussing about reviving the extinct subspecies and reintroducing lions into North Africa. The study has also revealed a similar example seen among tigers, in which mitochondrial DNA studies have implied that the Siberian tiger is closely related to the  now extinct Caspian tiger. This has allowed conservationists to discuss the shift of the Siberian tiger stock to inhabit the Caspian tiger's former range with backing from the Global Tiger Summit. Likewise, if no examples of purebred Barbary lions can be found within the captive population, there might be an opportunity for restoring North Africa's lion population by using the closely related Asiatic lion. Dr. Barnett further added that mitochondrial DNA has been sequenced from museum-preserved specimens, including the Barbary lion, Asiatic lion, and even lions from Central and West Africa. From the DNA analysis, the study has identified four new mitochondrial haplotypes: one from North Africa, one from a suspected Barbary lion in medieval London, one from Iran, and one from Senegal. Four of the six Barbary lions demonstrated sequence indistinguishable to that of the Asiatic lion. The close genetic relationships between the Barbary, Iranian, and Asiatic lion populations are extraordinary given their extensive geographical separation. The resurrection of the Barbary lion has drawn attention of conservationists from both inside and outside North Africa.
The Asiatic lion has been found to be closely related to the Barbary lion in terms of genetics.

It is absolutely extraordinary to learn how an extinct subspecies of a particular animal can be genetically related to a surviving subspecies, and that this relationship could be used as a key to restore the extinct subspecies. This has been seen here in the case of the Barbary lion and the Asiatic lion. Although both of these subspecies lived separately in two different continents, genetic evidence indicated that they are closely related to each other. In addition, the DNA analysis also revealed that Asiatic lions are also genetically related to Central and West African lions. Interestingly, lions in Central and West Africa are physically similar to Asiatic lions in a sense that they have smaller manes and differently shaped skulls compared to lions in eastern and southern Africa. Furthermore, they also live in smaller prides like their Asiatic counterparts. The Barbary lion, on the other hand, was described as having a spectacularly extensive mane compared to other lion subspecies. In addition, it was also a lot larger than other lions with differently-colored eyes. However, lions in eastern and southern Africa also exhibit a large mane like their extinct North African relative. Could it be possible that there might be some similarity between the Barbary lion and lions in eastern and southern Africa? I think this is a question that must be studied, in order to determine the relationship between the Barbary lion and lions in eastern and southern Africa. This would further help in understanding the origins of modern lions, as well as help in resurrecting the Barbary lion from extinction.

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