Barbary Lion Facts

A Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) from Algeria. Photographed by Sir Alfred Edward Pease.

Alfred Edward Pease/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain


Barbary Lion; also known as Panthera leo leo, the Atlas Lion and the Nubian Lion


Plains of northern Africa

Historical Epoch:

Late Pleistocene-Modern (500,000-100 years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to seven feet long and 500 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; thick mane and fur

About the Barbary Lion

Tracking the evolutionary relationships of the various subspecies of modern lion (Panthera leo) can be a tricky affair. As far as paleontologists can tell, the Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo) evolved from a population of European Lions (Panthera leo europaea), which themselves descended from Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica), which are still extant, albeit in dwindling numbers, in modern-day India. Whatever its ultimate heritage, the Barbary Lion shares one dubious honor with most lion subspecies, having been wiped off the face of the earth by human encroachment and the dwindling of its once-expansive habitat.

Like many other recently extinct mammals, the Barbary Lion has a distinctive historical pedigree. Medieval Britons had an especial fondness for this big cat; during the Middle Ages, Barbary Lions were kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London, and these big-maned beasts were star attractions at swanky British hotels. In the latter part of the 19th century, while the species was being hunted to extinction in northern Africa, Britain's surviving Barbary Lions were transferred to zoos. In northern Africa, even in historical times, Barbary Lions were prized gifts, sometimes being offered in lieu of taxes to the ruling families of Morocco and Ethiopia.

Today, in captivity, a few surviving lion subspecies harbor remnants of Barbary Lion genes, so it may yet be possible to selectively breed this big cat and reintroduce it into the wild, a program known as de-extinction. For example, researchers with the International Barbary Lion Project plan to recover DNA sequences from various mounted Barbary Lion specimens in natural history museums, and then compare these sequences with the DNA of living zoo lions, in order to see how much "Barbary." so to speak, remains in these felines. Males and females with a high percentage of Barbary Lion DNA would then be selectively mated, as well as their descendants on down the lion, the ultimate goal being the birth of a Barbary Lion cub!

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Strauss, Bob. "Barbary Lion Facts." ThoughtCo, Oct. 10, 2021, Strauss, Bob. (2021, October 10). Barbary Lion Facts. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Barbary Lion Facts." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).