Thursday, February 14, 2008

Star-crossed lions' love triangle at Bristol Zoo

By Tom Chivers and agencies
Last Updated: 2:30pm GMT 13/02/2008

A lovelorn lioness whose partner can no longer satisfy her needs has sought solace in the arms - or perhaps claws - of a younger lover.

Lovers Chandra (left) and Moti in happier times
Moti, an Asiatic lioness resident at Bristol Zoo, is the mother of three cubs by Chandra, her fourteen-year-old mate. However, Chandra has been diagnosed as having a low sperm count, meaning that he will be unable to carry out his masculine duties.

Staff at the zoo want Moti to have more children, as the Asiatic lion is highly endangered, with just 350 left in the wild - all of them in the Gir Forest Sanctuary in northern India. To that end, they have brought in a younger leonine Lothario in the shape of Kamal, who at a mere 13 is something of a toy-boy to the fourteen-year-old lioness.

To avoid ugly scenes of bitterness and recrimination, Chandra will be moved to Cotswold Wildlife Park to provide comfort to a female lion whose partner died in November.

John Partridge, the senior curator of animals at the zoo, said: "Asiatic lions are critically endangered, so it is great news to be getting a new male lion.

"The prospect of lion cubs is fantastic for Bristol Zoo as well as for the breeding programme as a whole.

"Chandra is an attractive animal and has quite a character - we shall miss him, as I'm sure many of our visitors will. But we invited an expert from Berlin to visit to find out why Chandra and Moti had stopped breeding.

"He found that Chandra has a very low sperm count - it seems that we have been very lucky to have had any cubs from them at all.

"Genetically, Moti is very valuable to the European breeding programme.

"The male from Twycross is a proven breeding male and so we are hoping for at least one litter of cubs in the future."

Chandra and Moti’s first cub was born in Bristol Zoo in March 1998, but tragically it only survived a few days. Two more - Indi and Dacca - were born in August of that year, while a third, Aiesha, arrived in 2001.

All three have since grown up and moved to other European zoos.

In an effort to protect the Asiatic lion from extinction, Bristol Zoo Gardens is engaging in a worldwide conservation breeding programme.


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