, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 507-514
Date: 01 Mar 2006

Lost populations and preserving genetic diversity in the lion Panthera leo: Implications for its ex situ conservation

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Two of the eight recognized lion subspecies, North African Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) and South African Cape lion (Panthera leo melanochaita), have become extinct in the wild in the last 150 years. Based on sequences of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region (HVR1) extracted from museum specimens of four Barbary and one Cape lion, the former was probably a distinct population characterized by an invariable, unique mtDNA haplotype, whilst the latter was likely a part of the extant southern African lion population. Extinction of the Barbary line, which may still be found in “generic” zoo lions, would further erode lion genetic diversity. Therefore, appropriate management of such animals is important for maintaining the overall genetic diversity of the species. The mtDNA haplotype unique to the Barbary lion, in combination with the small size of the HVR1 analyzed (c. 130 bp), makes it possible and cost-effective to identify unlabelled Barbary specimens kept in museums and “generic” captive lions that may carry the Barbary line. An initial study of five samples from the lion collection of the King of Morocco, tested using this method, shows that they are not maternally Barbary.