Barbary Lion
Sultan the Barbary lion in captivity at New York Zoo, 1897. Indian lions could help bring the now extinct Barbary lions of North Africa back to life, claims a study. Wikimedia Commons

An extinct species of lions of North Africa may soon be resurrected as scientists have found the animals' close genetic links in Indian lions.

DNA tests have revealed that Indian lions are closely related to Barbary lions, according to a new research published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

According to Dr Ross Barnett, lead author of the study who sequenced the DNA from the skulls of two Barbary lions once held in Britain's Tower of London, four of the six Barbary lions exhibited sequence identical to that of the extant Indian lion.

Scientists described the DNA sequencing as "noteworthy" as Indian lions showed incredibly close relationships with the Iranian and the Barbary lion populations of North Africa despite being geographically distant.

According to the research, the restoration of the extinct North African Barbary lion has attracted the attention of conservationists both inside and outside North Africa.

Although there has been circumstantial evidence that the Barbary lion could have survived in captivity, studies have shown that the most likely descendants of wild Barbary lions do not appear to be Barbary.

The close genetic relationship between the Barbary lion and the extant Indian lion gives hope to conservationists.

"In the tiger, another charismatic felid species, studies of ancient mitochondrial DNA have suggested a close relationship between the extinct central Asian Caspian tiger and the extant Amur tiger," scientists noted in the study.

"This has allowed conservationists to discuss the translocation of Amur tiger stock to occupy the former range of the Caspian tiger with support from the World Tiger Summit.

"Similarly, if no examples of purebred Barbary lions can be found within the zoo population, there might be scope for restoration of the North African lion population using the closely related Indian lion," the scientists said.