Washington, April 7 : A new study has shown that a pair of skulls unearthed from the Tower of London's moat in 1930s, belonged to an extinct breed of a North African lion, which could help in their resurrection.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the study suggests that the species known as the Barbary lions, were held in captivity at the Tower of London in medieval times.
Researchers have said that the discovery also suggests that descendants of Barbary lions may still survive in captivity, which could help efforts to resurrect the dark-maned breed.
The lions' North African roots were revealed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA, a genetic marker passed between females.
The DNA revealed that the two animals represent the oldest confirmed Barbary lion remains in the world, according to the study team.
Radiocarbon dating of the lion skulls in 2005 indicated that the two male cats first came to the tower in the 13th century, the oldest being dated to between A.D. 1280 and 1385.
At that time the palace housed the Royal Menagerie, a diverse collection of exotic animals owned by the reigning monarch.
"Carcasses of dead animals from the menagerie were likely thrown into the moat, where they became buried in silt," said study team member Richard Sabin of the Natural History Museum in London.
"The environment persevered the lion skulls remarkably well, allowing genetic samples to be taken," he added.
According to Sabin, the DNA analysis supports historical evidence suggesting that Barbary lions had an ancient presence in Europe.
"The Barbary lion population had been exploited for at least a couple of thousand years. It was quite easy for people to nip over from Italy, Spain, and Portugal to pick them up," he said.
The last reported Barbary lion in the wild was shot in the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa in 1922. Since then, hopes of reviving the subspecies have focused on captive lions, especially those showing signs of the Barbary's most distinctive feature: a noticeably long, dark mane.
"Because we have these good genetic samples from known purebred Barbary lions, we can compare DNA from those ancient specimens to the ones that potentially are still alive in zoos today," said Sabin.
"There may be descendents of them still in the U.K. in zoos and wild-animal parks, but this is something that would need to be ascertained through genetic study," he added.
According to Nobuyuki Yamaguchi of the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, the long-term aim is to return the lion to part of its former range in North Africa.