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Tigers [Lions] Lemurs
All [Asiatic] White Lion            
(Panthera leo persica)

Asiatic Lions

The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is a genetically distinct subspecies of lion. This genetic difference is small, less than the genetic difference between human racial groups. It is estimated that the Asiatic lion only recently (100,000 years ago) separated from the African population of Panthera leo. Although 100,000 years seems like a very long time; geologically and in terms of evolution, it is extremely short. For this reason, the Asiatic lion and the African lion can still interbreed with each other and have not evolved with reproductive incompatibilities. The biggest visual difference besides size between the two subspecies is a longitudinal skin fold that runs down the belly of persica. This characteristic is always seen in the Asiatic lion and only rarely in the African. Another physical characteristic setting them apart is that the male Asiatic lion has a substantially smaller mane on the top of his head. The mane is sparse enough that the lion's ears are exposed and visible. Its African counterparts' mane is so thick that it obscures its ears completely. Perhaps the most interesting anatomical difference between the two surviving subspecies of lions lies with-in their skulls. The skull of the Asiatic lion possesses two small apertures or holes that allow the passage of nerves and blood vessels to the eyes. The skulls of African lions only have one hole on either side.

Lions Roar - Asiatic Click Here to hear the Roar

Today the only living Asiatic lions inhabit the Gir Forest of India, where the Nawab of Junagadh protected it. At the turn of the century the Gir was estimated to cover over 2500 square kilometers. Unfortunately, today the Gir has shriveled down to less then 1200 square kilometers

The Asiatic lion population has been reduced to near Extinct numbers by the early 20th century. Records indicate that by 1949, less then 100 individual Asiatic lions inhabited the region. By 1990, census counts indicated a population growth approaching 200 animals in the wild. Now a second population of Asiatic lion exists in captivity. A Species Survival Plan or SSP was established by the AZA (American Association of Zoological Parks) to manage the genetics of these rare lions in captivity. Unfortunately, the entire population of captive animals held in western zoos originated from only five founder animals. What this means is that there was very little genetic diversity to start with! Genetic studies also revealed that two of these five founders were actually African-Asian hybrids, leaving only three pure bread Asiatic founders. As of 1994, only 82 captive pure Asiatic lions existed globally, with 23 held outside of India. India's Government is now considering removing some wild lions in the hopes that their new genetics will help SSP coordinators manage the genetic diversity of this animal in captivity. If this is done properly, there is the possibility of bringing this lion back from the brink of EXTINCTION, and even reintroducing animals back into their wild habitat. Assuming it still exists!


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