Tag Archives: barbary

Dwindling ecology of the Sahara: large animals in decline

desert

A view of the Sahara desert in Algeria – the last Algerian lions survived on the fringes of the Sahara into the 1940s with others surviving in northern coastal forests into the 1950s. (Photo by Florence Devouard)

The Bubal hartebeest is extinct, the dama gazelle and addax survive in only 1% of their former range, and various other hoofed animals from the region are extremely threatened:  the Nubian Ibex clings on in parts of Algeria whilst the Barbary sheep fares a little better.

Of the major predators, the Barbary Lion has certainly been extinct in the wild for 50-60 years (assuming some of its ancestors still survive in a handful  of zoos). The African wild dog no longer inhabits the Sahara desert (and was only present in southern fringes. The Saharan cheetah only inhabits 10 per cent of its former range, surviving largely unnoticed in southern Algeria. Similarly a small leopard population is known to survive in the southern Algerian Sahara, but is lost from 97 percent its historic range.

However there are opportunities for recovery: the scimitar horned oryx is extinct in the wild, but controlled releases in fenced reserves in Tunisia and Chad are looking to re-establish the wild population. Similarly the Addax has been reintroduced in fenced reserves in Morocco and Tunisia. The leopard was thought extinct in the late 1990s, but a small population appears to survive in the Atlas Mountains. Do these examples of experimental reintroductions and relic populations offer hope for wider recovery of North African and Saharan ecosystems?

Reading:

Anon (2013) Sahara Desert’s large mammals Slipping Into Extinction. Environmental News Service. December 5, 2013 http://ens-newswire.com/2013/12/05/sahara-deserts-large-mammals-slipping-into-extinction/

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

Wildlife Conservation Society. “Critically Endangered Cheetahs In Algeria Snapped With Camera Trap.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090227082603.htm>.

More on the Northern (near) extinctions

The demise of lions from northern regions (above the Sahara) followed a sequence starting in Europe in ancient historical times, central Asia and Egypt and along the North African coast, then a slow shrinkage from the eastern Mediterranean countries.

Small populations of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) clung on in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan to the end of the 19th Century and some micro populations continued in the latter three countries into the 20th century, but have only remained in the Gir forest in India since that time.

The Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) disappeared from coastal Morocco in regions near the larger human population centres in the 19th century, but survived in remote areas of the High Atlas of Morocco and the Saharan Atlas (north central Algeria) and Aures mountains in northeastern Algeria into the second half of the 20th century.

detailed lion extinctions in North Africa and Middle east to India (Black version 2015)

Reading:

Bartosiewicz, L. (2009) A lion’s share of attention: Archaeoogy and the Historical Record. Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. DOI: 10.1556/AArch.59.2008.2.2

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

The solitary lion?

credit: http://www.photomaroc.net/image/713-Jbel_hebri_rocher

photo credit: http://www.photomaroc.net/ image/713-Jbel_hebri_rocher

The lion is distinctive in being the only big cat which lives in extended social groups.

The North African ecosystem is
a relatively low energy system (click here) with little food available for carnivores when compared to African savannah or Indian dry forests. Lions
were known to move above the (temporary) snow line in the Atlas Mountains – an even more harsh environment.

This probably explains the reasons for most sightings of Barbary lions in the 18oos and19oos referring to either single animals, pairs, or pairs with cubs; the larger pride structures associated with East Africa are not encountered, and the type of female-dominated family groups which are commonly encountered in India are not described in documented North African sightings.

Some commentators suggest that the behaviour of the Barbary lion was more similar to the Siberian tiger – relatively solitary. There are certainly many examples of single animals being cornered and shot in isolation.

Reading links:

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

Black, S. (2015) Room to move in? https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/barbarylion/2015/04/22/room-to-move-in/

Insights into late survival & extinction of the Barbary lion

Late sightings of lions in North Africa may seem surprising and certainly some of the stories have oddities about them (Black et al. 2013). What should not be forgotten, however, is how distinguishable a lion is from other similar species in the region – the chances of people mis-identifying a lion are relatively slim.

Even among the most recent sightings of Barbary lions in Morocco and Algeria the variation of circumstances when people see the animal is huge – for example one sighting is a photograph taken while flying over the Atlas mountains, another is lion observed by locals on a bus, whilst several others occur when the animal was shot (Lee et al. 2015).

Assessment of historical sightings by expert panel reveled the reliability of these sightings is generally high, so varied sources can be sensibly used to map out the story of the species’ decline.

Supp1 Figure

Observations of lions in North Africa 1895 – 1960 Grey shading indicates Mediterranean scrub land. Triangular markers indicate lion sightings; (sightings 7–21) in Morocco (western Maghreb) and sightings 133-149 in Algeria (eastern Maghreb). Black circles denote human population centers. Dashed lines indicate national boundaries.

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

Lee TE, Black SA, Fellous A, Yamaguchi N, Angelici FM, Al Hikmani H, Reed JM, Elphick CS, Roberts DL. (2015) Assessing uncertainty in sighting records: an example of the Barbary lion.PeerJ 3:e1224 https://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1224

 

 

The sixth vision: could the former northern range become a refuge for Panthera leo?

One perspective on Barbary lion and North Africa revolves around the ‘romantic’ notion of reintroducing this charismatic species back into its former range. A second perspective is more pragmatic and equally visionary; using the species as a focus for driving the restoration of habitats in the region. A third vision, more pragmatic perhaps, would be to drive a tourist industry for economic benefit. A fourth vision is to preserve genetic diversity in Panthera leo or even selectively ‘breeding-back’ the Barbary lion, by retaining the genes held by lions from the Moroccan Royal collection (although this could still be achieved in captivity). A fifth vision would see North Africa developed as a new enclave for Panthera leo persica (currently only extant in India) – from the wild population most closely related to the Barbary lion.

Could there be a sixth vision – to provide an enclave for Panthera leo as climate change disrupts the suitability of existing habitats south of the Sahara? A recent paper shows the risk of decline in current habitats suitable for lions (Peterson et al 2014). Up in the northern strip of Africa, along the Mediterranean coast there are potentially some small enclaves of habitat. Would it be prudent to make these a refuge for lions?

If so, which lions would we put there? What sort of ecosystem should develop as a result (prey, landscape, human use)? Which might be the best locations? What controls might be needed to protect humans, livestock and lions?

Peterson and Radocy Climnate change predictions

Reading:

Peterson A.T., Radocy, T., Hall, E., Peterhans, J.C.K., and Celesia, G.G. (2014) The potential distribution of the Vulnerable African lion Pathera leo in the face of changing global climate. Oryx 06/2014; 48(04):1-10. DOI:10.1017/S0030605312000919

Here, in times past, lions roamed…

Ain Talawan1ss

Lion country: Ain Talawan (Photo: N Yamaguchi)

This landscape is more reminiscent of Scotland than Africa, but is a valley in north-eastern Algeria. Accounts of lions in this region continued up to the early 20th century (Black et al 2013). One of the more memorable regular encounters by local people with lions used to occur in this region.

The stream above the valley runs near a track which was frequently used by local people taking goods to market.

However the stream, although fairly unassuming (see the photo below) was an importnat water point for lions. This meant that people regularly had to drive lions away from the area with sticks when travelling through the area. A colleague in Algeria has collected verbal accounts from an old man who used to travel this route in the 1920s.

An unassuming stream in hills above Ain Talawan. (Photo: N Yamaguchi)

The scene is reminiscent of the encounters in the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India which the local Maldhari people  experience with the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica).

A Maldhari and his livestock in the Gir forest. He has a stick to steer his animals and to protect them and himself against lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Moroccan Royal Lions http://faculty.qu.edu.qa/yamaguchi/Atlas%20lion.htm

Patterns of lion decline in North Africa

Map of last sitings of barbary lions in 20th Century

The last pockets of habitat where lions were seen in the mid 20th century (1930s – 40s). Well-known populations in central Morocco (Ifrane) and western Algeria (Oran) had already disappeared.

Although there is no definitve survey data for barbary lion presence in North Africa, it is possible to use the information from reported sightings to map the final decline of the species. A quick summary is given in the figure opposite. The mid-grey expanse is the Maghreb ecosystem which was suitable habitat for lions stretching from south-west Morocco through to north-east Tunisia.

The lightest grey patches in central Morocco and north central Algeria indicate where lions had been present up to the 1920s. The darker grey regions indicate where the last micro-populations survived from the 1930s up to the early 1960s (at the latest). The important last populations may well have been completely isolated in North Setif, Biskra and Batna, the Saharan Atlas, southern Morocco on the Saharan fringe, and the southern High Atlas. It is possible that lions traversed the arid zones between the High Atlas, the Saharan fringe and the Saharan Atlas mountains, but the rest of the Algerian populations in the east were probably quite separate after the early 1900s.

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

A new resource for natural history and research on the Barbary lion

Welcome to the Barbary Lion blog. This site has been developed to bring the latest news and research on the natural history of the Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo).

This site outlines recent research on the lions of North Africa, now extinct from the wild. The story of these lions still provides lessons for big cat conservation today.

We want to engage you in the research currently being undertaken by leading centres of excellence in genetics, extinction modelling, ecology and natural history.

We are looking forward to hosting several guest contributions each year from various experts in the field of ecology, genetics and conservation.

We look forward to your comments and contributions and hope that there are ways in which you can help us to learn more about the barbary lion story and its relevance to big cat conservation.