The Geography of the Atlas Mountains

Map of North Africa plainLions inhabited north Africa from the Mediterranean coasts of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia up to the mountain slopes of the Atlas ranges which fringe the northern of the Saharah. The shaded areas of the map (right) show the most suitable habitats across the region. Lions observed traversing semi-arid areas kept close to water points.

The High Atlas range runs west-east from Morocco’s atlantic coast (north of Agadir) into the Morocco/Agleria Border. Lions could be tracked in the snow of the High Atlas mountains.

The Middle Atlas in Morocco (around cities such as Fez) run northeastwards towards the coast. Sightings were common in the forests of these regions. North of the middel Atlas are the coastal Rif mountains which spread up towards Tanger (Tangiers) overlooking the Mediterranean towards Gibraltar and Spain (the Rif are geologically similar to Spain’s Sierra Nevada, rather than being part of the Atlas chain).

The Anti Atlas in Morocco run from the Saharah in the south up towards Agadir and the High Atlas range.Lions were not commonly seen in this region, although several later sightings in the 1930s suggest small populations had been marginalised to these remote semi-arid areas.

Photo: N. Yamaguchi

Photo: N. Yamaguchi

The Tell Atlas run for 1500km from Morocco’s Middle Atlas along a lineĀ  west-east, passing south of the Algerian cities of Oran and Algiers, parallel to the Mediterranean Coast. Further shouth, the Saharan Atlas are the boundary of the Sahara itself (shown by the areas around Ain Sefra and Djebel Amour in the map).

The Aures mountains are the easternmost part of the Atlas range, crossing the northern Algeria-Tunisia border. The western Aures intersect the Saharan and Tell Atlas at the Belezma range (which hold important cedar forests). The forested mountain areas around Setif (see photograph, left) contrast strongly with the drier regions south towards the oases such as Biskra.

Further Reading:

Black SA, Fellous A, Yamaguchi N, Roberts DL (2013) Examining the Extinction of the Barbary Lion and Its Implications for Felid Conservation. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060174

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