More than 70 years after hunters gunned down what was believed to be the last Barbary lion remaining in its native wilds of Northern Africa, the extinct species could be poised for a comeback with the help of its genetic cousins a continent away.
Researchers comparing DNA from the preserved skulls of Barbary lions with other subspecies still in existence say they have found a incredibly close genetic match in a small population of Indian lions. Despite the geographic divide, conservationists believe that adding Indian lions into the Barbary's habitat could effectively resurrect the species.
"I was most surprised by the incredibly close relationship between the extinct Barbary lion from North Africa and the extant Asian lion from India," study author Dr. Ross Barnett told the BBC.
"This has implications for any future attempts to reintroduce lions into North Africa. They could probably be re-seeded with Indian lions."
Using outside populations of genetically similar animals to re-populate regions where they have been driven to extinction is nothing new. But with Africa's other lion subspecies themselves in decline, the realization that some can return from extinction is raising hopes that lions could roam in North Africa yet again.