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 user 2006-06-05 at 10:47:00 am Views: 59
  • #15812

    India’s ‘old-age home’ for lions

    Zookeepers in India have set up the country’s first “care home” for ageing and infirm lions.

    The $45,000 facility at Chhatbir Zoo in Punjab state
    provides more space for geriatric big cats – and sanctuary from attack
    from younger lions.

    A diet of minced meat and vitamins also helps compensate for worn-out teeth.

    Chhatbir was at the forefront of a failed cross-breeding
    programme which has weakened the blood pool of India’s lions and left
    many hybrid cats sick.

    Zoos and safari parks across India have faced a hard
    time in dealing with some 300 hybrid cats – crosses between Asiatic and
    African lions – which are highly prone to disease.

    What we hope to do here is to give these proud animals the life of dignity and comfort in their final years

    Chhatbir Zoo director Kuldip Kumar

    Chhatbir Zoo, near Chandigarh, produced nearly 100
    hybrid cats and, left with just 23 ageing lions, the zookeepers
    recently decided to make life more comfortable for the animals.

    Up until now, the zoo’s “retired” lions had been
    condemned to spend all their time cooped up inside small, dark and
    dingy enclosures normally employed as feeding pens.

    “It was becoming very complicated to manage these
    animals within such small confined spaces and in many cases they became
    more sick. And we could not let them out in the safari area since the
    younger lions would attack and injure them,” Chhatbir Zoo director
    Kuldip Kumar said.

    ‘Life of dignity’

    Located in the zoo’s densely-forested safari area, the
    new “old-age home” has larger night shelters, spacious and
    open-to-the-sky enclosures and a discreetly fenced yard.

    The yard, which would normally serve as the display
    area, offers Chhatbir’s elderly lions the never-before opportunity to
    laze in the cool shade of a hot summer afternoon or bask in the winter

    Enclosure at Chhatbir

    The old lions will have space to relax in the open

    Six of the zoo’s oldest lions have already been moved to the new facility and are being cared for like elders.

    “These animals have almost completely worn-out canines
    and cannot feed on the usual diet of buffalo meat chunks so they are
    given specially-procured minced meat mixed with a variety of diet
    supplements and vitamins,” Mr Kumar said.

    The zoo’s vet, who gives the animals regular medical
    check-ups, is now exploring the possibility of conducting eye surgery
    on some of the lions blinded by cataracts.

    “What we hope to do here is to give these proud animals a life of dignity and comfort in their final years,” Mr Kumar says.

    The “home” does seem to be helping the old and sick lions.

    Tucked away in the foliage a little way off the
    visitors’ path at Chhatbir, the “home” intermittently resounds with the
    fearsome roar of these former kings of the jungle – a far cry from
    recent days when they lay wailing in dark, dingy cells.

    Tainted genes

    India’s Central Zoo Authority (CZA) helped fund the
    shelter. It called an end to the failed breeding programme – which
    started in the late 1970s – just over a year ago.

    Experts say cross-breeding began when captive Asiatic
    lions in India’s zoos were cross-bred with African lions travelling in

    In the early days, zookeepers were not made aware of the
    importance of conserving pure genetic stock, and resorted to prolific
    breeding so that more animals could be used for exhibition purposes.

    Indian laws and tradition forbid the killing of animals,
    so the unhealthy lions will be allowed to die out rather than be