[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2011]
 It has already been suggested that lions from Central and West Africa look and behave differently to those in East and Southern Africa, but little scientific evidence has previously been presented to back it up. Recent studies, however, have now proven this difference as a result of their genetic make-ups.

The differences in these two main geographical groups of lions include a smaller size and weight, smaller manes, smaller group sizes and smaller prey in Central and West Africa lions compared to their larger counterparts in East and Southern Africa. There is also a difference in the shape of their skulls.

In fact, these ‘larger’ lions have more similarities to lions in Asia than to those ‘smaller’ ones in the south.
An important factor having an impact on these differences is the number of environmental barriers on our continent. The dispersal of these two groups of lions is due to natural structures such as the rain forest in Central Africa and the Rift Valley. This depression in the African landscape stretches from Ethiopia to Tanzania in one direction and from DRC to Mozambique in the other, creating a huge geographical barrier.
The different climate in these two areas, and its change over the ages, has caused lions to adapt and evolve. Central Africa experienced severe drought a few thousand years ago during the Pleistocene extinction. This resulted in lions from West Africa moving north into Asia, where they survived until conditions in Africa improved.
This explains the resemblance of Centre and West African lions to those species in India and the Middle East, and hence their unfamiliar genetic comparison with Eastern and Southern African lions.
These findings are of paramount importance when it comes to conserving the genetic diversity and lineage of a species, especially in West and Central Africa where these lions are regionally endangered. 
Source: L. D. Bertola, W. F. van Hooft, K. Vrieling, D. R. Uit de Weerd, D. S. York, H. Bauer, H. H. T. Prins, P. J. Funston, H. A. Udo de Haes, H. Leirs, W. A. van Haeringen, E. Sogbohossou, P. N. Tumenta, H. H. de Iongh. Genetic diversity, evolutionary history and implications for conservation of the lion (Panthera leo) in West and Central Africa. Journal of Biogeography, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02500.x
Viewed online [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110401085113.htm] and [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02500.x/abstract;jsessionid=DA2B10827E1D027F1C83487443F99010.d03t02]