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Results of phylogenetic studies published in 20 indicated that the jaguar and the lion belong to one sister group, which diverged about 2.06 million years ago.
They were distinguished on the basis of appearance, size and colour of mane.
Today, the lion occurs in fragmented populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and one in western India.
It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996, as populations in African range countries declined by about 43% since the early 1990s.
The majority of lions kept in zoos are hybrids of different subspecies. The following table is based on the classification of the species Panthera leo provided in Mammal Species of the World.
Approximately 77% of the captive lions registered by the International Species Information System are of unknown origin. It also reflects the classification used by IUCN Red List assessors and the revision by the Cat Classification Task Force: This is the nominate lion subspecies.
Cultural depictions of lions are known from the Upper Paleolithic period, with carvings and paintings from the Lascaux and Chauvet Caves in France dated to 17,000 years ago, through virtually all ancient and medieval cultures where they once occurred.
The lion's closest relatives are the other species of the genus Panthera: the tiger, snow leopard, jaguar, and leopard.
Samples of 53 lions, both wild and captive individuals, from 15 countries were used for phylogenetic analysis.
Nonetheless, they might carry genes that are extinct in the wild, and might be therefore important to maintain overall genetic variability of the lion. In North Africa, lions are regionally extinct in the wild due to excessive hunting; the last known Barbary lion was killed in Morocco in 1942.
In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group assigned the lion populations in Asia and West, Central and North Africa to P. Small groups of lions may have survived until the 1960s.
The liger is a cross between a male lion and a tigress.
Because the growth-inhibiting gene from the female tiger mother is absent, the growth-promoting gene passed on by the male lion father is unimpeded by a regulating gene and the resulting ligers grow far larger than either parent.
The Asiatic lion persica was the most distinctive, and the Cape lion had characteristics allying it more with P. Lions in eastern Kenya are genetically much closer to lions in Southern Africa than to lions in the Aberdare National Park in western Kenya.