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.
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 http://ecologie.ma/premiere-nationale-un-serval-photographie-dans-le-moyen-atlas/ (photo: Salim Meghni)
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>.
World Bank http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST accessed October 2014.