Barbary Lion – It Was Very Good

Barbary Lion
Male Barbary Lion, 1893. Photographed by Alfred Edward Pease

Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo)

The Barbary Lion, also known as the Atlas lion or Nubian lion, was a lion subspecies formerly native to North Africa. The lions inhabited the range countries of the Atlas Mountains including the Barbary Coast. In Algeria, they lived in the forest-clad hills and mountains between Ouarsenis in the west, the Pic de Taza in the east, and the plains of the Chelif River in the north. There were also many lions among the forests and wooded hills of the Constantine Province eastwards into Tunisia and south into the Aurès Mountains.

Barbary Lions lions had the most luxuriant and extensive manes amongst lions.  The Barbary lion was considered the largest lion. Museum specimens of the species are described as having very dark and long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and to the belly. Head-to-tail length of stuffed males varies from seven to nine feet, and females around 8 ft. The weight was documented as being as heavy as 600 to 660 lbs in males.

Barbary Lion
Sultan, a Barbary Lion, of the New York Zoo, circa 1897

The Barbary Lion is extinct in the wild. Some Zoos and wildlife preserves believe they have Barbary Lions in their care, though the minimal genetic diversity of the alleged remaining animals ensures that the subspecies is effectively extinct.

Hunting, habitat loss, and desertification in Northern Africa all contributed to the extinction of the species. The Romans used Barbary Lions in the Colosseum to battle with gladiators. By the early 1800s, it was already being reported that they were extinct from coastal North Africa.  The last known report of Barbary Lions in Tunisia dates to the 1890s. The last of the subspecies was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. There were a few sightings in Morocco and Algeria in the 1950s. The last remaining wild population of the lion may have survived into the early 1960s in the remotest areas.

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Bali Tiger – It Was Very Good

Bali Tiger
Skin of a female Bali tiger held at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense in Indonesia. It is one of four preserved Bali tiger skins in the world.

Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica)

The Bali Tiger was native to the Indonesian island of Bali. It was one of three subspecies of tigers found in Indonesia, together with the Javan Tiger, which is also extinct, and the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.

Bali tigers had short fur that was a deep, dark orange and had fewer stripes than other tiger subspecies. Occasionally, between the stripes, were small black spots. Bali tigers also had unusual, bar-shaped patterns on their heads. The white fur on their underbellies often stood out more than that of other tiger subspecies. It was the smallest of the tiger subspecies.

Bali Tiger
Adult male Bali Tiger shot by Mr. Zandveld on Bali (1912)

Considering the small size of Bali the original population of Bali Tigers could not have been large. The tiger was driven to extinction through habitat loss and hunting. During the Dutch Colonial period (1840s – 1940s) the animal was highly sought after by European sportsmen.

The last specimen definitely recorded was a female shot at Sumbar Kima, west Bali, on September 27, 1937. The Bali Tiger was never captured alive on film or displayed in a public zoo. But a few skulls, skins, and bones are preserved in museums.

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Auroch – It Was Very Good

Auroch’s as depicted in cave painting – Lascoux, France

Auroch (Bos primigenius)

The Auroch was a large species of wild ox that inhabited Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is the ancestor of domestic cattle. The species survived in Europe until the 17th century.

There are three recognized subspecies: Eurasian, Indian, and North African. Biologisits hypothesize the Auroch was domesticated twice in two separate events – the Eurasian into Taurine cattle and the Indian into Zebu cattle.

From skeletal remains, written descriptions, and visual representations it is believed that Aurochs, on average, were six feet tall at the shoulder and weighed up to 3,300 pounds. They had massive horns that could reach 31 inches in length. Unlike modern cattle the species had long, slender legs and their skulls, due to the size of their horns, were substantially larger. The coloration seems to be standard across the three subspecies with the calves being a chestnut color which in bulls darkened into a very deep brown or black with a white stripe along the spine and whitish muzzles. Cows retained their reddish chestnut color into maturity. The North African Auroch is sometimes portrayed with a light colored “saddle” pattern on their back.

from a book by Sigismund von Herberstein

The last recorded Eurasian auroch died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland from natural causes. No measures to preserve the animal were taken according to the historical record. Though, the conception of extinction was not accepted until around 1800 CE.

Unrestricted hunting, loss of critical habitat due to human encroachment, and diseases transmitted from domesticated cattle all contributed to the extinction of the Auroch.

There have been a number of attempts to breed back the Auroch. None of these efforts are recognized as being successful.

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Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2017

Lost Species
copyright Svenpa

Today marks the 6th annual Remembrance Day for Lost Species. Remembrance Day is an opportunity to set aside time to memorialize one of those lost species. To create a space that allows us to acknowledge and grieve for what we have lost. It is also a chance for us to tell their story and renew our commitments to ensuring the remaining are preserved and flourish.

This is the premise of my latest project, It Was Very Good, to catalog and remember the animal species lost due to human actions. The first post went live last week: The Atlas Bear. Next week’s will be the Auroch.

Today, though I’m going to set some time aside to mourn the loss of the Australian Thylacine. Eighty years ago the last known Thylacine, Benjamin, died in a zoo. No one living today knows what the Thylacine sounded like. No one is alive today knows how they moved or what their social interactions were. And no one will ever know these things. I think we are poorer for that loss and I think it is something worth mourning over.

There is nothing I, or you, can do for the Thylacine. But, there is also nothing any of us can do when a loved one dies. We acknowledge that loss though. We mourn and remember. As Abi Nielson so aptly put it, “Surely a failure to acknowledge, or to mark the passing of such losses is just one more disconnect between ourselves and the world we inhabit? We are humans, we are animals. We berate our rich politicians for being out of touch with the lives of the majority, while we ourselves remain out of touch with the lives of the majority of animals on this planet.” Remembrance Day is one small way we can help get ourselves back in touch.