Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Extinct lion brought back from the dead


The Barbary Lion was a subspecies (Panthera leo leo) in which the male possessed an unusually large, dark mane, extending from the head, neck and chest, right down to the belly. It was once common across the whole of North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. Thanks to human intervention, it is now extinct.

The North African or Barbary Lion was first reduced to small numbers by the ancient Romans, seeking livestock for the displays in the Colosseum and other such arenas.

As the Arab communities north of the Sahara began to increase, the indigenous lion population became a nuisance. Livestock was attacked and eaten and eventually a reward was offered for every lion destroyed. This officially encouraged killing continued for many years until the great Barbary Lion was becoming rare everywhere in its wide range.


In Libya, the last lion was exterminated as early as 1700. In Egypt, a few managed to cling on in the most remote areas until near the end of the 18th century. In Tunisia the last one was despatched in 1891. In Algeria it was reported to be nearing extinction by the beginning of the 20th century. The last Algerian lion was killed in 1912.

The last one to be seen alive anywhere in the world was shot by a hunter in Morocco in 1920. Since then there has been no trace. (from: Desmond Morris, Cat World: A feline Encyclopedia, Ebury Press, 1996).

It is believed that a lion rescued from a circus in August 1996, by the Animal Defenders may be from the Barbary sub-species.

There have also been recent reports that eleven lions in an Ethiopian Zoo are from the subspecies. The Hoedspruit Research & Breeding Centre for Endangered Species are attempting to obtain these animals.

Jessup, a lion owned by Steve and Debbie Yates in Missouri is also thought to be from the sub-species (source Wild About Cats).

Dr Haddane Brahim of the Parc Zoologique National de Rabat, Morocco, recently told the Animal Defenders that there are still some Barbary lions in captivity in Morocco and that there are up to 40 scattered between zoological gardens.

In 1997, ADI discovered in an Italian zoo further lions believed to be from the Barbary subspecies. In 1998, the animals were relocated to Hoedspruit.

© Animal Defenders International 2019