Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Distinctive big cats - and we're not lion

OK, that pun was bad even for me, but this is intriguing stuff.

Lions in general are in trouble, down over 60% in the wild in this century, and two types are gone: the Cape lion and the Barbary lion, both famous for enormous manes.  A few Barbary descendants have been found in captivity and breeding efforts exist to bring back the "pure" animal. (Another type of lion, Kenya's small, spotted marozi, is a mystery: the two specimens shot might have been oddballs, but you never know...)

Ethiopia's late Emperor Haile Selassie kept a large private menagerie including lions.  His lions were wild-caught, though the locations aren't well-documented, and their descendants survive in deplorable conditions in Addis Ababa.   When experts from Leipzig, the Ethiopian capital's sister city, came to help improve the condition of the animals and help design a new facility (scheduled to open this year), they noticed these lions were pretty odd-looking, Their body mass is below the norm for East African lions, but their manes are not: males have luxuriant manes that continue all the way down the ventral side of the body. 
The Ethiopian lions apparently don't belong to either the Cape or Barbary subspecies. Among other morphological differences, they are too small: those "lost" types were among the largest of lions.  However, genetic analysis agrees with the visual evidence indicating these lions are a distinct type of their own that specialists really didn't know about until now. Thanks to all the scientific attention, their future is looking much brighter. 

P.S. I don't know who wrote this Wikipedia entry on the marozi, but it's very good: this might be the first time ever I've cited to Wikipedia in this blog.


Laurence Clark Crossen said...

By the way, have you heard of this?

Matt Bille said...

Clark, that's a terrific clip.