Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lioness’ death revives debate over Etawah Safari.

Lucknow: The death of lioness Lakshmi in Etawah Lion Safari has re-ignited the debate whether the terrain is fit to house lions.

The pet project of the Samajwadi Party was in a limbo for over eight years at the Centre before it got the nod in 2012. Wildlife experts had raised concerns over it saying the climate of Etawah terrain was not suitable for the royal animal.

The correspondence and meetings among three bodies concerned - Central Zoo Authority, Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and UP government -- between 2005 and 2007 had discussed the project on various points, one being the suitability of climate and terrain of Etawah for lions.

"In several of these meetings with the Central government, concern was raised over climate and terrain in Etawah not conducive for lions," said a source in MoEF.

"Lions have not been studied as much as tigers so we can not say much on impact of climate and terrain on lions or on their social requirements. This was perhaps the reason why CZA said Etawah safari should also be developed as a research centre," said a forest officer associated with the project.

Another reason behind the lioness' death could be isolation. Unlike tigers, lions are social animals. "Lions love to see men around them. Look straight into their eyes and you develop a trust with them," said an officer of Gir national park, the biggest habitat of Asiatic lions.

Lions live in a pack of 10 to 15 and hunt and eat together. The most dominant lion rules over a large territory and has maximum number of lionesses and cubs living with it. Separating lions from their pack reduces their strength and being mentally unfit makes them vulnerable to diseases. Has the same happened with Etawah safari lions?

"Scientific management of lions and a well-planned mating plan is must to rear a viable lion population because they are not into close mating," said the official. Cubs born to same mother do not mate nor do the cubs born to different mothers but brought up together as they share a sibling bond. They mate only in rare cases. "There is a need to separate male and female cubs born to same mother or brought up together as soon as they are three-year old or mature to mate," he added.

KK Singh, director of Etawah Lion Safari, said investigations are underway to ascertain the cause of lioness' death. "The report has been sent to the Central Zoo Authority. And as more reports come, we would send them to CZA," he added.

UP had brought four pairs of Asiatic lions from zoos in Gujarat and Hyderabad in 2013 for breeding centre at Etawah safari. Cubs born to the pairs were to be released in the safari for tourists. But before the project could move ahead, it has received a jolt from Lakshmi's death.

Before being released in Etawah, a lion pair was kept at Kanpur zoo and three in Lucknow zoo. "They were kept away from public glare and examined medically everyday. Even when they arrived at zoos they were were found healthy. They were fed as per the diet chart from their parent zoos," said a zoo officer.

After permission from CZA, a pair was released in Etawah in April this year. Three other pairs followed in September. Forest department officers said they had no clue how Vishnu and its companion Lakshmi, pair from Kanpur zoo, contacted the disease? Lions, for more than one and a half year of their stay in UP have lived a solitary life, in zoos as well as safari.

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