History of Moroccan Royal Lions

Lions at the Sultans Palace Fez

Lions in the Sultan’s palace at Fez circa 1920

The traditional royal collection of lions in Morocco is an important part of the Barbary lion story. The sultans of Morocco kept animals in palace gardens for centuries and lion cubs were offered by tribes from the Atlas mountains as tributes to the ruler. In the 1500s and 1600s prisoners were reputedly thrown in with the beasts; artwork produced at the time alludes to this practice. By the 1800s the collection had become more benign and the lions in the palace at Fez were eventually transferred to a purpose built Rabat Zoo in the late 1960s.

The label “Moroccan Royal Lion” was revived in the paper by Yamaguchi and Haddane (December, 2002) which revisited the history of the animals of the royal collection in Morocco and links to certain lions in zoos today.

The television series ‘Museum Secrets’ series included some background on the Barbary lion in an early episode on London’s Natural History Museum, the home of  lion skulls discovered in the Tower of London in the 1930s. The following clip includes a short historical overview of the potential link between the Moroccan Royal lions found in zoos and the Barbary lion.

Museum Secrets Season 1 (Natural History Museum

Further Reading

Yamaguchi N, Haddane B. 2002. The North African Barbary lion and the Atlas Lion Project. International Zoo News 49 (321): 465-481.