The last micro populations of lions north of the Sahara held out in the North West of Africa (Algeria and Morocco) and in Iraq, Iran and India in the East. Of these, just 400 remain in the Gir Forest with a small number now appear to be established in the Kodinar Coastal strip in southern Gujarat, India.
The last record of lions in Iraq was possibly the two shot by a Turkish governor in 1914 near Mosul and later in 1918 in the lower Tigris . The last Iranian lions had largely dissappeared in the 1940s with sporadic sightings by railway engineers in the years during the second world war. A lion was also thought to have been seen near Quetta in Pakistan in 1935.
In 1963, the last pride of five Persian lions was hunted in the Dasht-i Arzhan districy of Fars Province in Iran. According to Guggisberg, national newspapers and media “celebrated” the killing of these lions with pictures and fanfare. The pride consisted of a female with four cubs in a cave, the male had been shot already. Just as in earlier accounts from Algeria in the 1880s, the female was shot on the spot, and the cubs were taken as trophies. No subsequent sightings have been reported from Iran, although an attempt was made to reintroduce lions into the region in the 1970s, but the animals dissappeared, presumably shot.
Guggisberg C.A.W. (1963) Simba: the life of the lion. London: Bailey Bros. and Swinfen
Schnitzler, A.E. (2011) Past and Present Distribution of the North African-Asian lion subgroup: a review. mammal Review, 41, 3.
The idea of introducing big cats back into areas from which they have been extirpated seems one of the great opportunities in conservation. Survival of big cats, as apex predators, is an indication of a generally healthy ecosystem. However the practical challenges faced by people who have to live in regions where big cats are present are not insignificant. Here are a few:
A leopard attacks a forest guard near Siliguri, India. People attacked the leopard which later died. Picture: AP Source: AP
1. Risk of personal attack
2. Additional personal protection required
3. New routines for organising work and travel
4. Extra effort required to protect livestock
5. Reduced access to hunting
6. Threats to animals living in or near homes
7. Temptation for locals to seek risky revenge attacks on dangerous animals
8. Inconvenience of fencing, installed for protection, but reduces access
9. Potential ‘no go’ areas prevent safe grazing or agricultural land use
10. Everyday tasks become risky (e.g. water or wood collection)
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.
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