Let us travel to the Maghreb, north of the Sahara Desert, to the high Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In many places, these austere, celestial heights still remain relatively unblemished and pristine, and contain a wealth of superb natural treasures.

The climate of North Africa is varied but more or less parallels the natural conditions found on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea – a stark, rocky, and arid wilderness of high, dry plains, open, mixed woodlands, and alpine expanses. Remarkably, at the narrowest point in the Strait of Gibraltar, North Africa is separated from Spain by only 7.7 nautical miles of seawater (14.24 km). And thus, to no marginal extent –and perhaps expectedly- North Africa’s biological composition is characterized by an exceptional mixture of both African and European floras and faunas.

This place was once the haunt of the outstanding Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo), a great cat of superlative splendor and form, which disappeared from the continent sometime during the course of the early to mid 20th century. A smaller pantherine counterpart of this region –the secretive Barbary Leopard (Panthera pardus panthera) - managed to cling precariously to existence for some decades longer than the lion, and has itself disappeared perhaps only within this last ten years or so. There is still some hope that these incredible cats lurk like ghosts in the far reaches of the mountains, but they have not been seen or otherwise detected for a discouraging number of years. Many people fear that the Atlas Mountains have finally lost two living jewels that may never be obtained again.

But there was another living jewel, a very unusual creature –and seemingly out of place for its kind- which disappeared from northern African probably about one century before the lion and the leopard. The creature was unusual for several reasons, the first reason was that it was a bear –the only native kind naturally present on the vast African continent within recent history, and the second, that it may have in fact been a distinct species apart from the ones we are now familiar with.