By Maria Traspaderne
Rabat, Feb 1 (EFE).- With their thick dark mane and strong limb structure, endangered Atlas lions thrive in parks such as the Rabat National Zoo, which has recently welcomed five cubs.
The cubs have not been named yet. They are waiting for zookeepers, or maybe internet users, to name them.
Atlas lions, also known as Barbary lions, are the largest, most powerful lions and a symbol of Morocco, to the point that the country’s national team is nicknamed after them.
The term “king of the jungle” is also believed to refer to Atlas lions because they used to live in mountain or desert habitats and not classic savannahs.
Atlas lions have thicker manes than African lions, allowing them to bear the mountain’s cold weather. Unlike lions living in the savannahs who roma in packs of 10, Atlas lions roam in packs of only three or four.
When they inhabited deserts, Atlas lions were located throughout the northern part of the continent. However, the gradual deterioration of their habitats around the beginning of the 20th century pushed them to descend from mountains to look for food.
Trophy hunting during colonial times and farmers killing lions for attacking their livestock made them go extinct. Now, they can only be found in zoos and probably not purebred.
The last purebred lion in Morocco was killed in 1942 near Marrakesh, Saad Azizi, the zoo’s head of veterinary service, tells Efe.
Azizi says there are no current plans to re-introduce Atlas lions into their old habitat because they are dangerous species.
The Moroccan zoo sets a benchmark for breeding and has 37 Atlas lions in total, the largest population in the world. Although these specimens are highly demanded, the Rabat zoo is controlling reproduction.
The five born last year will be the only cubs in the zoo for now, since it decided to stop breeding in 2022.
The oldest was born in May, while the rest in October.
After giving birth, the lioness does not separate herself from her cubs for two or three days until she is forced to go out to eat. That is when the vets step in to take the cubs to isolate them from the rest of the group in order to avoid accidents.
After spending some time in isolation, the five cubs are brought together with their parents for visitors to see as they get active and playful.EFE