Monthly Archives: January 2015

Can North Africa take lessons from Indian conservation?

Mountain, forest, steppe, coastal regions, dense populations, agro-ecosystems, pastoral pressures on natural landscapes, diverse range of native species. These words could describe both the mediterranean biome of North Africa and major biomes in India. Most strikingly, several of the major species associated with North Africa are represented in some regions in India. The lion, leopard and striped hyena are most notably present, so perhaps the practical experience of working with lions and leopards in Gujarat in north-western India offers clues to how the recovery of Maghreb ecosystems in future decades could be modelled.

Gujarat is a region of high population density with a landscape that has experienced considerable human modification for agriculture. Additionally there is a local pastoral popuation, the Maldhari, who live inside the national park, home to the Asiatic lion. The lions themselves are also not confined to the national park and have been known to range far across the agricultural regions of Gujarat, increasingly so in the past few decades. Lions have set up home on the scrublands on the southern coastal region of the state, suprisingly close to population centres and human infrastructure.

North Africa's historical biodiversity is compatible with India temperate regions - even elephant existed in the Maghreb until historical times. Modern India is justifiably proud of its biodiversity heritage [Map adapted with North African additions from concept by Karanth (2014) photos: K. Varma, N. Mehta, S. Mahanta, H.S. Singh, H. Malik].

North Africa’s historical biodiversity (left) is comparable with India’s temperate regions – elephant existed in the Maghreb in historic times [Adapted from Karanth (2014)  photos: K. Varma, N. Mehta, S. Mahanta, H.S. Singh, H. Malik; S Black].

Further reading:

Anon (2012) Lions make coastal belt their home. Times of India

Jain A. (2014) Why dozens of India’s Asiatic lions are Dying. BBC News

Karanth, K.U. (2014) Fifty Years of Conservation. National Geographic Voices, Posted by Wildlife Conservation Society on November 9, 2014


Would a big cat species be able to survive in North Africa today?

A significant argument against reintroduction of lions into North Africa is that with the combination of deforestation, desertification and impacts on landscapes, plus the continued ingress of human communities, livestock and infrastructure into formerly wild areas, there is little space for a large carnivore in the region.

However the experience with lions in India is that the animals can be quite resourceful in surviving in a region which is relatively heavily populated. In Gujarat, India the human population is 310/km2 (800/sq mi). In Algeria this is 16/km2, but it should be noted that most of the land area is desert. In Tunisia there is proportionally less desert and the human density is 70/km2. In Morocco it is 74/km2.(World bank).

However larger cats still appear to hang on (just) – indeed the leopard may still survive in the Atlas mountains, although last seen in the late 1990s. A much smaller feline, the serval has been recently spotted in the Atlas for the first time. Most of the other species keep to remote Saharan areas.

In the southern fringes of the region where the Saharan and the Sahel link to sub-saharan Africa, several cat species are present, even if in low numbers. Scat analysis by scientists working in southern Algeria identified continued presence of leopard. Several cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) were shot during the early 1990s in southern Morocco and Cuzin (2003) suggested although  a few individuals could survive (less than 20), they are most likely extinct. Recent camera trapping in southern Algeria (covering an area of 2,800 square kilometres) the first systematic survey across the central Sahara identified four individual cheetahs.

The first camera trap footage showing a cheetah in southern Algeria in . Credit: Farid Belbachir/ZSL/OPNA; courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society (2009)


Busby et al (2009) Genetic analysis of scat reveals leopard (Panthera pardus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in Algeria. Oryx, 43(3), 412–415

Première nationale: un serval photographié dans le moyen Atlas (photo: Salim Meghni)

Wildlife Conservation Society. “Critically Endangered Cheetahs In Algeria Snapped With Camera Trap.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2009. <>.

World Bank accessed October 2014.