There used to be lions in Arabia, but there haven’t been any for quite some time. According to this site: http://www.arabianwildlife.com/current/yemen.html, lions in the Sana’a zoo in Yemen are descendants from wild lions caught in Yemen back in the day.
In both zoos the only exotic wildlife to be found were a number of lions with unusual histories. Transferred to the zoos from the old Imam’s Palaces, the lions from Sana’a zoo are said to be descendants of animals that were wild-caught in Yemen! Hard to believe, but samples were taken for genetic work at a later stage. Evidence of lions living in the Arabian peninsula can be found in the preserved writings of a Greek scholar, Agatharhides of Cnidus, who described a wadi in NW Arabia where local residents protected their animals against roving lions (see box). Ta’iz zoo also has some very handsome lions with the males sporting abnormally dense manes, which extend along their chests and cover the animal’s bellies. They are said to be descendants of lions given to the Imam in 1952 by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
From another article: http://www.arabianwildlife.com/archive/vol1.2/leop.htm
Whilst we know that virtually all of Arabia’s wildlife was more abundant in the past than it is today, it is sometimes difficult to imagine an Arabia in which lions and leopards were creatures familiar to many of the peninsula’s people. A text that was written in the second century BC, over two thousand years ago, by Agatharchides of Cnidos reflects the Ancient Greek’s fascination with wild animals. Indeed, there was a flourishing trade in captive carnivores during the late Hellenistic period and subsequently during the height of the Roman Empire. Any lion or leopard unfortunate enough to be trapped in Arabia was quite likely to end up in a cage in Athens or Rome where they became objects of show or participants in some of the blood-spilling ‘games’ of the period. This interest in exotic wildlife resulted in several quite informative texts on Arabia’s wildlife at this time.
“The lions of Arabia”, wrote Agatharchides, “are less hairy and bolder. They are uniform in colour just are those in Babylonia. The sheen of their mane is such that the hair on the back of their neck gleams like gold. …the leopards are unlike those found in caria and Lycia. their bodies are large, and they are much better able to endure wounds and pain. In strength, moreover, they surpass the others by as much as a wild animal does a domesticated one.”
Wouldn’t it be neat if shiny, golden lions roamed the Arabian peninsula once more?
On the topic of lions in general, did you read about the super lions of Botswana? Apparently they’re isolated on an island and had to adapt to be able to take down water buffalo. They are bigger and stronger than most lions and they swim adroitly in deep water. Story here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=392292&in_page_id=1766&in_a_source=&ito=1490