The Barbary lion was the largest predator of the cat family, was known as the Atlas lion. Only the Cape Lion could compete with him. Unfortunately, these graceful animals are no longer possible to meet in natural conditions. They were completely exterminated back in the 20s. These are the only feline predators that have been perfectly adapted to living in mountainous areas. The reason for their extermination was human activity.
View origin and description
The Barbary lion was a representative of chordate mammals. Animals represented the order of carnivores, the cat family, the panther genus and the species of lions. In ancient times, animals were quite common and lived on almost the entire territory of the African continent. Representatives of this particular species were used by Carl Linnaeus to describe lions.
Presumably the ancestor of the Barbary lion was the Mosbach lion. He was much larger than his follower. The length of the body of the Mosbach lions reached more than two and a half meters without a tail, the height was also about half a meter higher. It was from this species of animals that cave predators of the cat family originated about three hundred thousand years ago. Later they spread throughout the territory of modern Europe.
In ancient Rome, these animals were often used in gladiator fights, as well as fun battles with other types of predators. The earliest archaeological finds pointing to the ancient relatives of the Barbary predators are about six and a half hundred thousand years old. They were found on the territory of Isernia – a region of modern Italy.
The remains were attributed to the species panthera leo fossilis, relatives of the Mosbach lion. A little later, lions settled in the territory of Chukotka, Alaska, as well as North and South America. Due to the expansion of the habitat, another subspecies appeared – the American lion. It completely disappeared about 10,000 years ago during the last ice age.
Appearance and Features
The size and appearance of the predator was really amazing. The mass of males reached from 150 to 250 kilograms. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced. The mass of female individuals did not exceed 170 kilograms. There were individuals who, according to the notes of zoologists, exceeded the mark of three hundred kilograms in body weight.
A distinctive feature of the Barbary lion is a thick, long mane in males, which framed not only the head, but also a significant part of the body. Vegetation covered the shoulders of the animals, their backs, and even partially the abdomen. The mane had a dark, almost black color. In contrast to the color of the mane, the overall color of the body was lighter. The body of predators of the cat family is strong, squat, rather slender.
The lions had a large, slightly elongated head. Animals were endowed with powerful, strong jaws. They had three dozen teeth, among which were huge, sharp fangs up to 7-8 centimeters long. The long tongue was covered with small pimples, thanks to which predators took care of the hair and escaped from blood-sucking insects. On top of the head were small round ears. The muzzle had skin folds in the frontal part. The body of young, immature individuals had a variegated color. Small specks in small lion cubs especially stood out. In lionesses, they completely disappeared at the time of the appearance of the first offspring.
All representatives of the family of cat predators are distinguished by very developed muscles. The muscles of the neck and forelimbs were especially developed in the Barbary lion. The body length of an adult individual reached 2.2 – 3.2 meters. The animals had a long tail, its size slightly exceeded one meter. At the tip of the tail there is a brush of dark, thick wool.
These representatives of the family of cat predators were distinguished by short, but very powerful limbs. The impact force of one forelimb reached 170 kilograms! The limbs, especially the front ones, had very long claws. Their size reached eight centimeters. With such a blow, predators could easily break the back of even a large ungulate animal.
Where does the Barbary lion live?
The habitat of the Atlas beauties was the African continent. Most of them were concentrated in the southern and northern regions of the mainland. These are the only feline predators that have been adapted to existence in mountainous areas. The animals chose forest-steppes, steppes, savannahs, semi-deserts, as well as the region of the Atlas Mountains as their habitat.
Animals preferred as a habitat area covered with dense shrubs and other vegetation. This is necessary so that they can hunt and get their own food. The color of the skin merged with the tall grass and made it possible to remain invisible during an ambush.
Zoologists say that such a massive and thick mane is designed to protect the animal’s body while moving through dense thickets. Vegetation also performs a protective function, sheltering animals from the scorching African sun. Female Atlas lions hid their offspring in tall grass or thick bushes from other predators.
A prerequisite for the normal life of Barbary predators is the presence of a reservoir. It could be a small river, or a mountain spring. At the moment, not a single purebred animal in nature is left either in natural conditions or in captivity. In some national parks and zoos there are animals that were crossed with Barbary lions.
What does the Barbary lion eat?
Atlas lions, like other members of the feline predator family, were carnivores. The main food source is meat. One adult required about 10 kilograms of meat food per day. Because of their massive and thick black mane, males were not always able to effectively disguise themselves and go unnoticed.
The prey of the Atlas predator were mainly large ungulates:
- mountain goats;
- Arab cows;
In the absence of large herbivores, lions did not disdain smaller prey – birds, jerboas, fish, rodents. Lions were excellent hunters, distinguished by their lightning-fast reaction. In the process of chasing, they could reach speeds of up to 70-80 km/h. However, at such a speed it was unusual for them to overcome long distances. Also, animals could jump up to 2.5 meters.
Atlas lions were excellent hunters. They hunted large animals as part of a group. In open areas, mainly female individuals took part in the hunt. They could track down their prey for a long time, sit in ambush and wait for the right moment. Males could lure prey into a waiting ambush. They attacked with a sharp jump, biting their fangs into the neck of the victim.
If the animals had to get food in a mountainous area, males could also actively participate in the hunt, since in such an area it is much easier to go unnoticed. Small prey did not require collective hunting, its lions were hunted one by one. After eating, it was common for lions to go to the watering hole. Animals could drink up to 20-30 liters of water at a time.
Atlas lions were considered noble predators, as they never killed ungulates simply out of interest or for entertainment. Animals used to hunt only to feed themselves. Predators could leave the uneaten remains of especially large prey in reserve. Lions carefully guarded food from other, smaller predators.
Character and Lifestyle Features
It was not common for Barbary lions to create large prides. At the head of each pride was an experienced and wise lioness. Often they lived and hunted alone, or formed small groups of 3-5 individuals. The cubs lived with their mother until the age of two, then separated and led an isolated lifestyle. The groups consisted mainly of females who were related to each other. Often males and females met in the same territory only during the period of marriage with the aim of procreation.
Each group of animals, or a lone lion, occupied a certain territory, which was carefully protected from strangers. Often, males defended their right to occupy a certain territory, while entering into a fight, or frightening each other with a loud roar. Lionesses who were born within the pride, forever remained to live in it. Female individuals who did not reach the period of puberty shared with adult lionesses the care of their offspring, teaching them how to hunt.
The males left him upon reaching puberty and led an independent lifestyle, rarely united with other lions of the same age. Their task was to procreate. Often they entered into fierce battles for the championship in the pride. After the victory, a new, stronger and younger male destroyed all the offspring of the former leader in order to create his own.
Males used to mark their habitat by spraying urine. Females were uncharacteristic of such manners. Atlas lions, like other representatives of predatory cats, were excellent at communicating with each other. Lions, reaching the age of one, learned to growl and make sounds of various tonalities.
In females, this ability manifested itself much later. They also used direct contact, touch, to communicate. For example, as a sign of greeting, they touched each other. Males often showed aggression towards other males in the struggle for the right to enter into marriage relations, as well as for the right to occupy a certain territory. Lions were more tolerant of lionesses.
Social Structure and Reproduction
It was common for Barbary lions to enter into marriage relations and give offspring at any time of the year. However, most often the period of marriage occurred during the rainy season. Lionesses reached sexual maturity 24 months after birth, but offspring were given no earlier than 48 months. Males reached sexual maturity somewhat later than females. Each mature lioness was able to give birth to from one to six small cubs. However, most often no more than three were born. Pregnancy occurred every 3-7 years.
Atlas lions were characterized by polygamy. After a period of marriage, pregnancy occurred. It lasted about three and a half months. Before giving birth, the lioness left the territory of her pride and retired to a quiet, secluded place, located mainly in dense thickets. The babies born into the world were covered with dark spots and weighed 3-5 kilograms. The body length of a lion cub at birth reached 30-40 centimeters. Babies were born blind. They began to see after 7-10 days, and walk only after 2-3 weeks. During the first weeks of life, the lioness was constantly next to the newborn cubs.
She carefully hid them, protecting them from other possible predators. After a few weeks, the lioness, along with her cubs, returned to the pride. After 3-4 months from the moment of birth, the babies were offered meat food. A month later, they could watch how adult lionesses hunt and get their own food. From the age of six, seven months, the cubs have already participated in the hunt. However, mother’s milk was in the diet until the age of one. The average life expectancy of the Barbary lion under natural conditions was 15-18 years.
Natural enemies of the Barbary lions
When living in natural conditions, the Barbary lions had practically no enemies. No other predator encroached on the life of lions, since they had an advantage in size, strength and power. The only exceptions were crocodiles, which could attack lions during a watering hole. Also, cubs of predatory cats were easy prey for other, smaller predators – hyenas, jackals.
There were many reasons for the rapid decline in the number of Atlas lions:
- The death of lion cubs during the change of the main male;
- Diseases and helminths affecting lions when eating raw meat;
- Human development of ever larger territories;
- Changing flora and fauna, lack of food sources;
- According to statistics, more than half of the cubs died during the first year of life;
- Today, man and his activities remain the main enemy of a large number of animal species.
Population and species status
Today the Barbary Lion recognized as a species that has completely disappeared from the face of the earth as a result of human activities. The last representative of this species was killed by poachers in 1922 on the territory of the Atlas Mountains. For some time there was an assumption that several individuals exist in the conditions of national parks and reserves. However, this version was not confirmed.
Lions were found in zoos, which undoubtedly have common features with the Atlas predators, but these are not purebred representatives of the species. The Barbary lion has disappeared as a result of human activity. More and more animals are on the verge of extinction, or have already been completely exterminated. Animal species that have disappeared will never be able to be revived again.