Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Doha researcher contributes to landmark lion study in UK

5-4-2008

Doha researcher contributes to landmark lion study in UK

Gulf Times

http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/printArticle.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=211203&version=1&template_id=36&parent_id=16

A RESEARCHER at Qatar University (QU) has contributed to a landmark study which recorded the first genetic evidence that England’s first lions hailed from North Africa where the species is extinct in the wild today.

Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, assistant professor of Animal Ecology at QU’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, was a member of a team of researchers from London’s Natural History Museum and Oxford University.

The mission centred on two lion skulls found during excavations at the Tower of London. The lions were part of the Royal Menagerie, a collection of animals also including leopards, bears and other exotic animals that were probably gifts to English monarchs.

The examination of the mitochondrial DNA of well preserved skulls and analysis of the jawbones of the two lions revealed that they shared unique genes with the North African Barbary lion.

The link was further strengthened by the comparison of the skulls with Asiatic and North African Barbary lion skulls that are preserved in natural history collections in the UK and Europe.

Radiocarbon dating of the skulls showed them to be from the 13th to 15th centuries, making them the earliest confirmed lion remains in Britain since the extinction of the Pleistocene cave lion. 

According to Yamaguchi, historic records show that lions could be found from North Africa through the Middle East to India until the growth of civilizations along the Egyptian Nile and Sinai Peninsula almost 4,000 years ago stopped gene flow, isolating the lion populations.

“Western North Africa was the nearest region to Europe to sustain lion populations until the early 20th century, making it an obvious and practical source for mediaeval merchants.  Apart from a tiny population in northwest India, lions have been practically exterminated outside sub-Saharan Africa by the turn of the 20th century,” he explained.

The Barbary Lion, which lived in North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, is now extinct in the wild. There are about 40 in captivity in Europe, with less than a 100 in zoos around the world.

Commenting on the study, Yamaguchi observed that through such research he is seeking to improve the quality of his teaching which in turn will have great benefits for his students at QU in terms of raising their level of interest in the sciences and in research.

“Good research really helps teaching and more efforts need to be injected in supporting it,” he said.

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