Monthly Archives: December 2021

Renewed importance of the Moroccan Royal Lions

A new study by Lehocká et al (2021) published right at the end of December 2021 in PLos ONE focuses attention back on the Moroccan Royal Lion population. Previous studies provided data on the Moroccan Royal lions which has now been examined further in this interesting analysis of the captive population of animals that are descendants of the King of Morocco’s collection.

As this blog has repeatedly stated, these lions, now mostly scattered across European zoos as well as a significant group still in Rabat Zoo, Morocco, are a potentially very important remnant of the North African lion population. In contemporary terms we should see these as being part of the wider Northern lion subspecies Panthera leo leo (range India, Middle East North Africa , West Africa, Central Africa).

Fig 1 Diagram showing the structure of the pedigree file based on Wright’s fixation index (FST) from Lehocká et al (2021) showing relations between captive ‘Morocccan Royal lions’, defined by the location of individuals in zoological gardens, showing three main groups.

The PLoS ONE paper highlights that the effective population size of this wider group (of just under 100 animals) is only 14.

Continuous monitoring of the genetic diversity of the ‘Moroccan Royal lion’ group is required, especially for long-term conservation management purposes, as it would be an important captive group should further DNA studies establish an affinity to Pleo leo.

Further Reading

Lehocká, K., Black, S. A., Harland, A., Kadlečík, O., Kasarda, R., & Moravčíková, N. (2021). Genetic diversity, viability and conservation value of the global captive population of the Moroccan Royal lions. PloS one16(12), e0258714.

The startling reality of lion survival in the 21st Century

Lions are in a precarious position.  The IUCN/SSC Big Cat Specialist Group suggests that global lion population has declined by approximately 42% over the last 21 years.

In the early 2000’s, several initiatives estimated the population of wild lions in Africa, drawing on recent scientific surveys as well as expert opinions. Two estimates were of 22,800 individuals on one hand to 39,000 individuals. The most recent estimate is about 35,000 lions. The range of the remaining lion population is understood to be less than 20% of its former size. In West Africa they appear to have lost 99% of their former range and the fragmentation of the population is stark (see Figure 1 below). Some estimates suggest West African population to be measured at just a few hundred individuals (Chardonnet 2002; Riggio et al 2013).

Still many lion populations have yet to be properly surveyed, such that alongside known rates of decline in surveyed populations, experts consider the global lion population to be closer to 20,000 than to 30,000.


Figure 1. Distribution map of the African lion (red = extant, dark yellow = possibly extinct) (IUCN Red List 2015).


Chardonnet P. 2002. Conservation of the African lion: contribution to a status survey.
International Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife, France.

Riggio J., Jacobson A., Dollar L., Bauer H., Becker M., Dickman A., Funston P. J., Groom
R., Henschel P., de Iongh H. H, Lichtenfeld L. & Pimm S. 2013. The size of savannah
Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view. Biodiversity Conservation 22, 17-35