Inbreeding blamed for 59 lion deaths in Himachal


Shimla : A lion safari in Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district has lost 59 Asiatic lions in the past 26 years, with most big cats succumbing to diseases and abnormalities brought about by inbreeding due to a flawed reproduction programme, Forest Minister J.P. Nadda said here Saturday.

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“In the past 26 years, the Renuka Lion Safari has lost 59 Asiatic lions. The deaths have been consistently reported since 1983 and at present one male and seven female lions are in captivity,” Nadda told IANS.

The dead carnivores included 33 cubs. Most of them were born between 1981 and 2001, and were suffering from physical abnormalities due to inbreeding.

“The eight lions presently housed in the safari are also suffering from genetic ailments due to inbreeding. The entire population of lions is the progeny of a pair brought from Trichur in Kerala in 1977. This has weakened their immunity to disease and devastated their gene pool.

“The government couldn’t ascertain the cause of 28 deaths, which mostly occurred between 1983 and 1995. However, the causes of later deaths were lung-congestion, asphyxia and hear failure,” Nada said.

“Now the breeding has been stopped by separating the male from the females,” he added.

The minister said the decision to segregate the male from the females was taken by the state government on the recommendation of the Central Zoo Authority.

“Most of the lions in the Renuka safari are aged between 16 and 19, which is quite close to the maximum age of the caged animals. Most of them are now so weak that they make fewer movements than an average lion does,” said Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) Nagesh Guleria.

On May 23, 1975, a pair of lions was first brought to the Renuka safari from Junagarh in Gujarat. They died due to a change in the climatic conditions. The pair from Kerala was brought after that and gave birth to its first cub in 1980.