New species of lion discovered - In Ethiopian zoo?22/11/2012 19:45:16 DNA confirms genetically distinct lion population for Ethiopia
November 2012. A team of international researchers has provided the first comprehensive DNA evidence that the Addis Ababa lion in Ethiopia is genetically unique and is urging immediate conservation action to preserve this vulnerable lion population.
Large and darker manes
Genetically distinct from all lion populations
The researchers compared DNA samples from 15 Addis Ababa Zoo lions (eight males and seven females) to lion breeds in the wild. The results of the study, which also involved researchers from Leipzig Zoo and the Universities of Durham and Oxford, UK, are published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.Principal Investigator Professor Michi Hofreiter, of the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: "To our knowledge, the males at Addis Ababa Zoo are the last existing lions to possess this distinctive mane. Both microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA data suggest the zoo lions are genetically distinct from all existing lion populations for which comparative data exist.
"We therefore believe the Addis Ababa lions should be treated as a distinct conservation management unit and are urging immediate conservation actions, including a captive breeding programme, to preserve this unique lion population."
Extinct lion populations
Few hundred lions left in Ethiopia
In their study, the team of researchers recommend establishing a captive breeding programme as a first step towards conserving this unique lion population.
Lead author Susann Bruche, now with Imperial College London, but who conducted the research with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said: "A great amount of genetic diversity in lions has most likely already been lost, largely due to human influences. Every effort should be made to preserve as much of the lion's genetic heritage as possible. We hope field surveys will identify wild relatives of the unique Addis Ababa Zoo lions in the future, but conserving the captive population is a crucial first step. Our results show that these zoo lions harbour sufficient genetic diversity to warrant a captive breeding programme."
Are there more in the wilds of Ethiopia?
Professor Hofreiter said: "A key question is which wild population did the zoo lions originate from and whether this wild population still exists; this would obviously make it a priority for conservation. What is clear is that these lions did not originate in the zoo, but come from somewhere in the wild - but not from any of the populations for which comparative data is available."
All photos are courtesy of Joerg Junhold and Klaus Eulenberger, Leipzig Zoo.