European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 54–58

Urgent call for further breeding of the relic zoo population of the critically endangered Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo Linnaeus 1758)

Short Communication

DOI: 10.1007/s10344-005-0009-z

Cite this article as:
Burger, J. & Hemmer, H. Eur J Wildl Res (2006) 52: 54. doi:10.1007/s10344-005-0009-z


The Barbary lion became extinct in the wild around 1942. Since the end of the 19th century, a last purebred captive breeding stock existed at the court of Morocco. The rest of these animals became the core exhibition of the new Rabat Zoo after passing through repeated bottlenecks and possibly some introgression events by foreign lions. This study uses mitochondrial DNA sequencing data to clarify the relationship among these lions and their sub-Saharan and Asian relatives. We analysed mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences obtained from a sample from a Barbary lion descended from a young female of the Barbary lion breeding group at the Rabat Zoo and various other members of the genus Panthera. In our cytochrome-b-based phylogenetic tree, the North African Barbary lion, represented by a biopsy sample from the Neuwied Zoo, joins the Asian lion clade, although it is slightly different from its Asian sister group. However, it is clearly distinct from sub-Saharan lions and can be considered as a genetically defined phylogeographic group of its own. Molecular dating of the extant sub-Saharan and Asian lion groups shows that the split between North African Barbary lions and Asian lions must be considerably more recent than 74–203 kilo years ago.


PantheraMolecular phylogenyLion conservationSupportive breeding



kilo years


kilo years ago


base pairs


before present

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of AnthropologyMainz UniversityMainzGermany
  2. 2.Institute of ZoologyMainz UniversityMainzGermany