A Persian Lioness
By Sylviane Vaucheret
In the course of the Inventory Project, the skin of a Persian lioness was catalogued.
What does the specimen look like?
This specimen consists of the skin of the animal only: a ‘study skin’ in the Natural History scientific collection. It was never mounted as a piece of taxidermy to be used for exhibition purposes.
In our archives, the acquisition register entry for this specimen reads:
"1910.250, Persian lioness (Felis leo), bought from R.Z.S.I. From the Roy. Zool. Garden where it had been deposited by his majesty King Edward VII; purchase price: £2; From: Persia; named 'Shirea', deposited by the King Edward VII 11,VII,02. Sent to Williams to be skinned. Skull put into pit marked B. Received back 20.05.10. Died May 5th 1910."
How did this animal end up in Dublin?
As stated in our records, this lioness originated from Persia (present-day Iran). As a live animal she was given to the zoological gardens -the ancestor to Dublin Zoo- by King Edward VII on the 11th of July 1902 and was named ‘Shirea’.
We have no information about how this live animal came into the possession of the monarch: whether he captured it during a hunting expedition or received it as a gift himself…
From the Zoo to the “Dead Zoo”
The Persian lioness passed away on the 5th of May 1910 in the zoo, and was purchased a few days later by the Natural History branch of the National Museum of Ireland for £2.
An endangered subspecies
This specimen is of particular scientific importance as it represents a rare subspecies of lion: the Persian lion, also called Asian lion or Indian lion (scientific name: Panthera leo persica), which is distinct from its more common, and larger in size, African cousin.
All lions are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘vulnerable’, however, the Persian lion subspecies is judged to be in a particularly precarious position and is classified as ‘endangered’.
Where are Persian lions found in the wild?
The Persian lion population used to range from the whole of south-west Asia to the Arabian Peninsula and southern Europe (northern Greece). Nowadays it can only be found in the wild in the Indian State of Gujarat, where a single population, of about 350 individuals, remains.
Why are Persian lions endangered?
Most of the current population inhabits the protected area of the Gir Forest. However individuals outside this zone are particularly vulnerable to poaching. Because only one relatively small population remains, inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity are of concern. This subspecies is also extremely vulnerable to unpredictable events such as epidemics or natural disasters.
For these reasons, this subspecies of lion is in real danger of extinction.
This particular specimen is part of the museum’s reserve scientific collection, and is not on public display. On the first floor of the exhibition space of the Natural History Museum, you can observe a full-size African lioness, alongside a male and several cubs. The male is a young adult and probably close enough in size to a fully grown Persian lion.
You can also see a group of live Persian lions in Dublin Zoo.
Read more about this endangered species at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/15952/0