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Feb 7 14 7:04 AM

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Was the Barbary lion, the famous population in the north of Africa, a truly giant? Are those claims true? The next topic show that the Barbary lion was of the same size than they brothers of India and West Africa. None reliable weight has been reported from this population, but the few sizes and skull dimensions show that they are not exceptional in any particular characteristic.




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#1 [url]

Feb 7 14 7:07 AM

1. Charles Guggisberg

It has been long debated which was the size of the Barbary lion. At this moment, the best source is the book “Simba, the life of the lion” of Charles Guggisberg (1961), check the image:



As we can see, the sizes reported are no larger than modern lions from East Africa, or a better comparison, of the same size than those from West Africa and India.


Some weeks ago, I buy the book “Wild Cats of the World”, also of Guggisberg (1975) and he put the same data about the Barbary lion that he puts in his previous book. Check the image:



So, I search the original source of the data which is this book:

* Brehm, A. E. 1925. Tierleben. Vol. 4. Leipzig.


After a few searches, I found it in the web here:


The reference is different (year 1915, Vol. 12), but the data is exactly the same.


Now, check the measurements that Brehm states:



Brehm was probably one of the best Zoologists from Germany and the entire world. His data most be taken as mandatory and his statements are highly reliable, although now somewhat outdated.


Brehm states that the adult Barbary lions have a shoulder height of 80-100 cm, a head-body length of 160-190 cm and a tail length of 75-90 cm, which produce a total length of 235-280 cm. This size is similar to all the other lion populations and don’t present any exceptional dimension.


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#2 [url]

Feb 7 14 7:08 AM

2. Nobuyuki Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi & Haddane (2002) made a good investigation about this lion, check it:


How big was a Barbary lion? The famous French zoologist Cuvier measured a six-year-old captive-reared male Barbary lion, which had head and body length of 5 pieds 2 pouces (= c. 1.58 m), tail length c. 66.1 cm, height of forequarters c. 83.6 cm and of hindquarters c. 83.6 cm (Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier, 1824). This lion was caught in eastern Algeria in 1795 at about one year old and died at ten years old in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. Although the live lion may not have given Cuvier accurate measurements, the animal seems to have been very small for a male lion. It is, however, doubtful whether captive Barbary lions, usually captured as cubs and kept in menageries during the 18th or 19th centuries, attained the full body size. Cuvier himself referred to undesirable captive conditions at the menagerie (Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier, 1824). Cornish (1899) reported that big cats only lived, on an average, for two years in London Zoo in the mid-1800s. Gérard (1856) also expressed his concern about the captive condition of lions at the Jardin des Plantes. On the other hand, he described a big wild Barbary lion he shot with the comment `This lion, compared to the finest of those which are exhibited in our menageries, or at the Jardin des Plantes, was what a horse is to a donkey. . .' There is, however, no credible record of body measurements of wild Barbary lions. Gérard (1856) described the size of wild male Barbary lions as c. 2.3 m from the tip of the nose to the root of the tail, which measured c. 90 cm, and their weight as c. 270–300 kg. If this had been true, Barbary lions would indeed have been big amongst lions. However, the methods of obtaining these measurements (e.g. straight or along the curve) were not specified, and the accuracy of the measurements themselves may be questionable, as Gérard made them in the field. Although Pease (1899, 1915) suggested that North African lions might have become very heavy because they fed on mutton so much, regarding the body length he seems not to have believed what he himself quoted – an Algerian lion whose head and body length was c. 2.5 m and the tail length 75 cm.”


The largest Barbary lion skull so far measured, which is partly broken, has an estimated greatest length of c. 360 mm (Mazák, 1970; Yamaguchi, unpublished). Although 360 mm is not small, big skulls of sub-Saharan lions easily reach a maximum length of over 380 mm, and some even over 400 mm (Hemmer, 1974; Best, 1981; Yamaguchi, unpublished). Does this mean Barbary lions were not particularly big? Due to such a small sample size, we have to wait until more specimens may become available. The big lion Gérard shot in Algeria was presented to the Duchess of Orléans (Gérard, 1856), but the current whereabouts of this specimen and other wild-shot Barbary lions which decorated Gérard's Paris residence are not known.



Conclusion of Yamaguchi: there are no reliable sizes of wild Barbary lions, nor any weights. Yamaguchi, the “god” of hard-core-lion-fans presents a good case where he states that there is no evidence or at least enough specimens to say that this lion was larger than any other population. In fact, if we follow the new genetic evidence and with the presented sizes, we can conclude that this lion was of the same size and weight than modern Indian and West African lions, which incredible, reach the same sizes despite the large geographical distance.


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#3 [url]

Feb 7 14 7:09 AM

3. Skull size

About the skulls, Yamaguchi & Haddane (2002), quoting Mazák, states that the largest skull from this population was of c.360 mm, which is smaller than the maximum of other lion populations (South Africa, up to 419 mm according with Hemmer (1974)). However, a new investigation of J. H. Mazák (2010) provides new figures, check the image:



This table presents the following average for the population in the north of Africa:

Greatest skull length:

* North Africa:

Males – 372.3 mm (n=3)   

Females – 318.3 mm (n=2)


The second sample from North East Africa (specifically Ethiopia, including those from Addis Ababa) is dubious on its classification, because some authors believe that they are from descendents of the Barbary lion, but the last genetic study show that they are closer to the East African lions (Dubach et al., 2013), so its inclusion here will be incorrect.


Although small (n=3), the sample of Barbary lions show specimens that are clearly larger than the record stated by Yamaguchi, with a probable maximum between 410-420 mm. Even then, there are several records of lions with large skulls and small bodies, so this large skull size only suggest that Barbary lions were as large as other populations, but that they were no exceptional in any case.


Here are some images of a Barbary lion skull found in the tower of London:





Sadly, there are not measurements available, but they seem to be very small.


The average for the Indian lions is of 338.9 mm (n=6) according with Mazák (2010) and of 344.0 mm using 4 specimens from Pocock (1939) and Prater (1921). The largest Indian lion skull available measured 365.8 mm (Prater, 1921). Mazák (2010) presents only one skull of 330 mm from Iran and one of 347.8 mm from West Africa. Obviously these samples are pretty small, but even then, it seems that the Barbary lions had larger skulls than those from Asia and West Africa. Could this mean that the largest specimens of the Barbary lions were larger than those from these regions? Probably they did, but we don’t know by how much. A study of the relation between skull length and body length of lions could help us with this problem.


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#4 [url]

Feb 7 14 7:12 AM

4. Conclusion

Using the little reliable information available, the Barbary lion (female and male) had a head-body length of 160-190 cm, a shoulder height of 80-100 cm and a greatest skull length with an average of 372.3 mm in males and 318.3 mm in females. These sizes are about the same than those of Indian and West Africa, with the exception of the relative larger skulls.


With the weight issue, judging by its body size and skull dimensions, Barbary lions probably weighed up to 200 kg (and much less in average, probably between 160-170 kg) although there is the possibility of some exceptional specimens of probably up to 230 kg like the East African lions, or even 250 kg like the Southern African lions, but this last figure will be probably just an exaggeration in the northern areas of Africa. There is only a single report of Gérard of males up to 270-300 kg, but these are simple estimations and are completely unreliable.


The idea of its large size came from the large mane, but there are several captive Indian lions with heavy manes that weight less than 160 kg. There are several large lions with heavy manes in private facilities available in the web and the hard-core-lion-fans proclaim without any evidence that they are “Barbary”, but the truth is that none of them is pure Barbary or from any other population. Besides, any captive lion in cold climate can develop a large mane, so the mane is the worst factor to detect a Barbary lion.


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#6 [url]

Feb 7 14 8:05 AM

Based in what I have read, Holocene lions in Europe are the modern Asian lion subspecies. The skulls that I showed here (the images) are Barbary lions kept captive in the Tower on London.


Barbary lion per se lived only in the north of Africa, but taking in count they nearly equal DNA, we can say that the Barbary lion is the same than that of Asia and West Africa.


About the size, how is possible that two completely different lion populations (India-West Africa), localized so far, have achieved the same body measurements? So, the Barbary that was in the middle of the way probably developed similar dimensions. That’s why I theorize that the Barbary lion was of the same size or slightly larger than those from India and West Africa.


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#8 [url]

Feb 7 14 8:50 AM

Meanwhile the myth about the interaction between the Asian lions and the Cave lions in the end of the Pleistocene is always puzzling.

I wonder if they have truly ever met each other.

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#9 [url]

Feb 7 14 12:09 PM

Vratislav Mazak wrote that people often say that barbary lions are huge, but in fact there is no reason to think that barbary lions were bigger than other lions.

On the other hand...I have seen some lions of barbary descent and these lions were huge...well...I mean very tall, but also probably their weight was not so impressive. Other point is that these lions are different from asiatic lions and the difference is apparent at first sight...


this lion is very tall...probably the tallest felid I have ever seen...perhaps rivalled only by some amur tigers (but tigers were much more massive).

Last Edited By: Amnon242 Feb 7 14 12:13 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#10 [url]

Feb 10 14 10:19 PM

To be sincere, I don’t found any difference between the Indian and the “Barbary” lions in captivity.


This video shows lions that look exactly than those from Asia (captives), with the same mane type and the obvious belly fold. In fact, even the tail tuff is the same than those on Indians.


I see no difference but this doesn’t mean that these are not Barbary. We must take in count that Indian and Barbary lions are undistinguishable (genetic twins). So, seen a captive Indian lion is like to see a Barbary lion. Mane types are variable between populations and depend of the climate.


Shoulder height is variable between populations, some West African lions reports slightly higher shoulder heights than those from East or South Africa, despite been shorter in length.


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#12 [url]

Feb 14 14 8:44 AM

I will not be so sure Amnon, I have saw tall and slim captive Indian lions too.

For the moment, here is an image, with an available scale bar (5 cm), of the London Tower lion skulls:

The largest of the two skulls is the whitish one, and the scale shows that this "large" skull measured only 305 mm in length. Again, not an exceptional specimen; the darkest skull is smaller, I will scale it latter.

Last Edited By: GuateGojira Feb 14 14 9:22 AM. Edited 1 time.

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#13 [url]

Feb 15 14 3:32 AM

Just for fun, here are some pictures of some Barbary lions...

These two are thought to be some of the last remaining Barbary lions, they have facial characteristics you commonly see from the Gir forest.
Note that these two probably aren't "pure"


Leipzig Zoo Nubian lion


Picture of wild Barbary lion, only one of its kind...


Two zoo Barbary lions...

Algerian lion...


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#14 [url]

Mar 12 14 5:25 AM

Barnett et al. (2009) confirms that Barbary lions and those from India are the about the same, genetically speaking.

Here is the image of the evolutionary tree of the three different taxas of “lions”, plus a little ad:




Interesting, the DNA analysis showed that Barbary and Indian lions are about the same, even more closely related than some Cave lion population between them (intra-specifically).


This supports even more, the theory of Thapar et al. (2013), that lions from India were originated from Africa, and that the particular population of Gir probably came from the lions exported by the Mughals and Alexander the great, which take them from North Africa and Persia.


Amazing confirmation!!! smiley: happy

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#16 [url]

Mar 15 14 3:09 AM

Well everything seems to be doing good.

This is a science board, we do this because we love these animals and want to protect them. This board along with its users deserves nothing but respect!

Hopefully we are back in business


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Posts: 4 Member Since:relative

#17 [url]

Mar 15 14 3:18 AM

Kingtheropod wrote:
Well everything seems to be doing good.

This is a science board, we do this because we love these animals and want to protect them. This board along with its users deserves nothing but respect!

Hopefully we are back in business


Amen to that! image

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