The recently renovated Rabat Zoo in Morocco claims to have bred three new Barbary lion cubs in captivity. The larger cousin of southern Africa’s plains lions, Barbary lions were slaughtered en masse in fights with gladiators in order to demonstrate the superiority of humans over nature and finally the last wild individual was shot by a French hunter in 1922.
However, Moroccan Sultan Mohammed V, grandfather to the current king, had a private collection of lions that were gifts of allegiance from nobles and peasant hunters. Using ex-situ breeding methods, the zoo reportedly used the genetic material from these animals to build up a captive population of 30 individuals, including Layth, Rose and Rosa, who were born in December, 2011.
“In 1953, when Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Youssef (later King Mohammed V) was forced to abdicate and went into exile, the royal lions (21 in total) too lost their home at the palace,” according to The Six Extinction.
Three of these were moved to a zoo in Casablanca, while the remainder were sent to Meknes.
The Sultan returned to the palace in 1955 and the Meknes lions followed soon after, but the three lions sent to Casablanca never returned.
Then in the late 1960s a respiratory disease swept through the lion enclosure, at which point King Hassan II decided to build a new home for them in Temara. It is this space that eventually evolved into today’s Rabat Zoo, which has since undergone another massive restructuring.
Designed in the spirit of recovering the five major ecosystems of Morocco and the African continent, the Zoological Gardens of Rabat depicts the fauna and flora that live in swamps, savannah, rainforest, desert and the Atlas Mountains, including what is believed to be the Barbary lion.
“The positive points are: it is new, it is green (but the plants and trees still need to grow further), it is spacious.. Most animals have a lot of space, it is clean, there are hardly any fences and most animals look in good health!” wrote one traveler, who emphasizes that he has been to many of the world’s ‘top’ zoos.
Layth, Rose and Rosa, the zoo’s pride and joy, are constantly monitored by veterinary specialists.
“These cubs are the direct descendants of the Atlas lions, because like most of the cubs and lions here, they are a pure breed,” Abdul Rahim Salhi, head of operations at the zoo, told Al Arabiya News. “They are not mixed.”