On August 15 last year, when the country was celebrating the66th Independence Day, the zoo mandarins at Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park in the State Capital had one more reason to cheer. Two lion cubs were born to a pair of Asiatic lions-- Vishal and Saraswati -- that were specially brought from Hyderabad zoo under a breeding programme. But their enormous joy was short-lived.
The mother (lioness) refused to feed the cubs. As a consequence, the health of the cub, which was born weak, deteriorated and it died the next day. The other cub was then brought up with a lot of effort. After the mother refused to feed the second cub too, the zoo employees had to hand-feed it. The cub, named Sheru, survived on goat’s milk for the first three months and thereafter started to consume meat.
Weighing just 1.25 kg at the time of birth, Sheru weighed 25 kg when the
five-and-a-half-month-old cub was released in the lion’s enclosure on February 2 for public viewing. At present, his daily diet comprises 2.5 kg chicken and 250 gm liver against his mother’s intake of 9 kg buffalo meat and 3 kg chicken.
Since Asiatic lions are found only in Gir Forest of Gujarat in the country, the CZA mandarins were quite enamoured over the report on how the zoo officials had helped Vishal and Saraswati mate and made every effort for survival of one of its cub.
The officials of CZA, after mulling over a proposal on how to develop a lion
conservation zone on the premises of zoo spread over 152 acres of land, recently sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh for the purpose.
“Impressed with the successful breeding of Asiatic lion here, the CZA has sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh to develop a lion conservation area on the premises,” said Abhay Kumar, director of the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park.
Developing the lion conservation area is aimed at providing an off display area to the lions, where they can enjoy their natural surroundings. “We have earmarked the rear portion of the existing lion enclosure for developing the conservation area. The project will be completed in six months time,” said the director. At present, there are five lions, including the cub, at the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park. Apart from Vishal and Saraswati, the parents of Sheru, the remaining two lionesses are of African hybrid.
According to the established norms of CZA, breeding of hybrid lions is prohibited in zoos. “But we can go ahead with the breeding of Asiatic lioness,” the official added. The zoo mandarins said they would soon make the Asiatic lions mate again so that cubs are born this year as well. But they will have to be extra careful this time as last year they not only lost a lion cub, but three tiger cubs too.
In August 2012, a Royal Bengal tigress at Patna zoo had given birth to three cubs. Everyone was quite delighted as it was after a gap of 19 years that a big cat had delivered at the zoo here. But in the next 20 days, the tigress, named Swarna, lost all the three new-born cubs. While the first cub died on August 28, the second and third cub passed away on September 2 and September 3 respectively.
It is believed that Swarna stopped feeding the cubs after she developed an intestinal infection on August 20. Eventually, the cubs too contracted the infection from their mother, and since then were put under the observation of zoo doctors.
The Patna zoo director sought the help of Dr Abhijit Bhaval, a reputed doctor from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), but to no avail.
“The origin of the infection was not known. The intensity of the infection was so high in the cubs that none of the medicines worked,” said a doctor, who did not wish to be identified.
Sources said when the first cub died on August 28, the zoo officials left no stone unturned to save the other two. “But the cubs suffered from multiple organ failure. They had slipped into a coma because of systemic breakdown in their body and survived on saline and oxygen for the last four days,” the source added.
Whatever the officials might argue, but it’s equally true that Patna zoo had been losing one big cat after another, that too at a time when a concerted effort is going on for conservation of tigers.
In 2011, Tejaswani - a white tigress - and the prime attraction at the zoo, had died of a blockage in the intestine. Earlier, in May 2011, tiger Ram too had died
after a prolonged illness.
One hopes the CZA initiates remedial measures so that such irreparable losses do not recur, and the effort to develop a lion conservation zone at Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park bears fruit.