Category Archives: Zoo Research

How to win another 10 years for the Moroccan lions

The lions which are direct descendents from the captive collection of the Sultans and later Kings of Morocco are all in zoos. There is a healthy group of lions in Temara Zoo in Rabat, plus even more related individuals spread across a dozebn or so zoos across Europe, with around 100 animals in captivity overall. Ten years ago there were about 80 of these lions and many of those were beyond breeding age, or had already contributed significantly. Just around then, old and alone, the last female with genetic representation from founder animal 7 died and with her 1/12th of the genetic basis of the captive population.

Unfortunately until the studbook was developed from detailed examination of handwritten zoo records and a sweep of various databases, websites and personal contacts acrtoss European zoos the precariousness of the captive population was unknown. However since then a number of zoos have joined the programe to breed the animals and there have been successful transfers that have made the population a lot more healthier. When the studbook was devised it was hoped that a reinvigorated programme would give the zoo population another 10-15 years breathing space as a viable captive group.

However a few animals are underutilised – males needing suitable females – and some breeding pairings have been completely unsuccessful. Greater cooperation is needed between zoos to maximise the strenght of the whole population, not just the small groups held in each zoo exhibit. The first ten years since the revival of the breeding program has since passed. Concerted effort and active partnership is needed now to get inactive males and females together to develop breeding pairs.

Reading:

Black S.A. (2016) The Challenges of Exploring the Genetic Distinctiveness of the Barbary Lion and the Identification of Putative Descendants in Captivity, International Journal of Evolutionary Biology. vol. 2016, Article ID 6901892, 9 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/6901892

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010). Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

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

Barbary lion breeding shows improvements

A recent paper on improving conservation decision making (Black, 2015) includes some of the data used in developing the Moroccan Royal Lion studbook (Black, Yamaguchi, Harland and Groombridge, 2010) as previously gathered by the author with Dr Nobuyuki Yamaguchi (University of Qatar) and Adrian Harland (Aspinall – Port Lympne Wild Animal Park).

Data on productivity (in this case, the number of cubs born) shows that since the initiative to revisit and re-catalogue the lions known to be direct descendents of the King of Morocco’s collection there has been a marked increase in the production of new cubs. The great news is that these are also form well-matched pairs with no further in-breeding.

However the analysis also shows that a greater level of breeding is still needed to bring the  natural regeneration of the population under control. Currently there are practical restrictions to achieving this since clearly there are limits to the capacity that zoos have for increasing lion group sizes and for controlling breeding behaviour.

Further Reading:

Black S.A. (2015) System behaviour charts inform an understanding of biodiversity recovery. International Journal of Ecology http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/787925

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010). Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

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

Was the lion ever native to India?

lion india ashokaIn 2013 a book was published by Valmik Thapar which presented the idea that both the cheetah and the lion were most probably non-native species in India, introduced as captive animals from Africa or Central Asia, trained or used for Royal entertainment in the many substantial parks across the subcontinent and, with the demise of the various imperial and local royal dynasties between the 1200s and the mid 20th century, feral animals had become established as wild populations, hence the species now being seen as native (and rare – the lion, or extinct  -the cheetah).

This is an intriguing idea. The basis for these ideas runs from the lack of early accounts of either lion or cheetah in the region, but the subsequent rise of the follwing occurences in the time since Alexander the Great:

  • An active series of royal hunting parks and hunitng as a royal passtime with the use of lions and cheetahs being particlualry culturally important
  • Animals were exported to India from Central Europe and the middle east and also from Africa
  • The genetics of Indian lions show inbreeding suggesting an originally tiny population (escapee captive animals)
  • The genetics of captive Asiatic Lions (in the USA) shows traits of African subspecies.
  • Indian lions are ‘tame’ relative to their African counterparts (including accounts form North Africa)

Thapar and his co-writers concede that they examine this as naturalists and hitorians, rather than from a deep scientific examination of evidence. But the proposal does raise testable questions:

What are the research implications?

Do we understand the genetics of Indian lions relative to (and as different from) African lions? See recent work by Barnett et al. (2014).

Are all Asiatic lions Asiatic-African hybrids? This was the case in American Zoo animals in the 1980s – but those zoos may have mismanaged Asiatic-African pairings in captivity earlier in the 20th century.

What are the conservation implications?

Should Asiatic lions still be conserved? – YES – even if they are non-native to India, they are the last remnants of the lions which once ranged from Egypt to India (i.e. to the banks of the Indus river).

Might Indian lions be close relatives of Barbary Lions? – This is an intriguing possibility (see Barnett et al. 2014).

What about an Indian – Moroccan Royal lions Hybrid? – if Indian lions are ‘tame’ (which is NOT the case with many captive Moroccan Royal lions), then you could out-breed ‘tameness’ and retain an authentic the asiatic (northern) subspecies of lion. Similalry Asiatic lioins could eb used to retain or ‘clean up’ the Moroccan lions if they are wshown to be Barbary/subSaharan hybrids.

 

There is little reason to accept Thapar’s hypotheses. Improvements in genetic analysis will enable us to better understand lion phylogeny in due course. In the meantime, precaution suggests continued efforts in Indian lion conservation are strongly recommended.

 

Reading:

Anon (2014) New Genetic Study Reconstructs Distribution History of Lion. Sci-News.com http://www.sci-news.com/genetics/science-distribution-lion-01892.html

Barnett, R. et al. (2014) Revealing the maternal demographic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis. BMC Evolutionary Biology 14: 70; doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-14-70

Thapar V., Thapar R., and Ansari Y. (2013) Exotic Aliens: the lion and cheetah in India. Aleph, India.

 

Moroccan Royal Lions: “Who’s Who”


Family tree lions symbolsBy the end of the 1990s efforts by several zoos to engage in a pan-European breeding programme for lions derived from the King of Morocco’s collection was beginning to fade. Only Port Lympne continued with an active breeding group, and a male from Rabat zoo (number 241 on the diagram opposite) was brought in to reinvigorate a pride which was developed from animals imported from Washington zoo in the 1980s. Up until that point they had reached a point of inbreeding within a family group.

Research led by Black and Yamaguchi identified all the remaining animals of known
Moroccan heritage in zoos worldwide. Aside from the animals in Rabat Zoo (Morocco), all the other descendents were is zoos in Europe, plus two animals in Israel. However there had been no transfers since the early 2000s and those which had occurred had not given rise to new cubs.

The family tree derived from this work allowed potentially suitable (unrelated) pairs to be identified and for breeding transfers to be arranged by interested zoos. This has enabled reinvigoration of the zoo stock.

PL-3 Suliman

In the early 200os nearly a quarter of Moroccan Royal lions in European zoos were related to Suliman, the male at Port Lympne (photo: N. Yamaguchi).

Further Reading:

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010). Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

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

 

 

 

Barbary lions: an opportunity for significant zoo-based conservation

The barbary lion is extinct in the wild, most probably since the early 1960s.

Up until that fairly recent time the Sultans of Morocco, followed by the Kings of Morocco after constitutional changes in the 1950s, kept lions in private menageries. These animals had been bred from cubs which were presented as tributes by Berber Tribes of the Atlas Mountains.

In the late 1960s the remaining lions were still in the King of Morocco’s lion garden at the palace of Fez, then later Rabat. After an outbreak of respiratrory disease in the collection in the late 1960s, the lions were then moved to a new purpose built zoo in Rabat in 1973 (Yamaguchi and Haddane, 2002).

The importance of this is that since that first transfer of animals, it has been possible to trace all lions of pure ancestry alive today back to their ancestors – these animals originally in the Moroocan Royal palace collection. This means that zoos holding these descendents have a unique opportunity to keep the bloodline pure, and alive. Efforts by a number of zoos in recent years (Port Lympne, Olomouc, Belfast, Hannover, Madrid) to make breeding transfers and to increase the number of cubs has enabled the population to recover. As recently as 2008 it looked like breeding of these animals was likely to cease and at least one unique bloodline from the original 27 animals moved from the Royal Palace to Rabat zoo was lost at this time when an old non-breeding female in Germany died.

A rejuvinated zoo population with active, well managed transfers of animals between collectiosn will geive enough time for deeper scinetific and genetic analysis to determine the uniqueness and deeper ancestry of these Moroccan animals and their significance to lion conservation.

 

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010). Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

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

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8109000/8109945.stm

Moroccan lions in zoos today

A number of zoos in Europe have lions descended directly (and exclusively) from animals which were in the King of Morocco’s royal collection in Rabat in 1969. A few examples on the animals in captivity are shown here:

PL-3 Suliman

Male at Port Lympne Zoo, UK (Photo N Yamaguchi)

DSCN0312

Male lion (Milo) at Port Lympne, UK (Photo: S Black)

Rabat-2 females

Lionesses at Rabat, Morocco (Photo: N Yamaguchi)

During the 1990s Port Lympne in Kent (UK) was one of the few zoos with a breeding group outside Morocco. Suliman (left) was sourced from Rabat zoo and at one stage was the sire to about a quarter of the total population of animals outside Europe. He is now retired from the breeding programme.

Two of Suliman’s sons are important breeding animals. One has since been transferred to Zoo Hannover (Chalid) to join a group of females. The remaining brother Milo (left) is now intended as the prime breeding male at Port Lympne. His current partner is a lioness sourced from Madrid zoo.

Several females have been imported from Morocco into European zoos over the past decade. The focus of zoo-based breeding is to preserve important bloodlines represented by various animals across several zoos. Active arrangements for transfers of animals have been revived over recent years.

Further Reading:

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010) Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

Research on the zoo population of lions from the Moroccan Royal Collection

The link below takes you to the 2010 article which identified the total population of animals derived from the collection of the King of Morocco, which was moved from the lion garden at the palace in Rabat to a then newly constructed Rabat zoo in 1969.

Since that time several animals and their progeny have moved to zoos around the globe. Their descendents are now only found in zoos in Europe and Israel, plus the remaining animals in Morocco, recently moved to a modern park, le Jardin Zoologuique de Rabat.

A number of other zoos across the globe claim to have animals descended from this lineage, or considered descendents of the Barbary lion, but have this provenance is yet to be confirmed.

The research article on Moroccan and European-based animals can be found here:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5