INDIA’S OLD-AGE HOME FOR LIONS
INDIA’S OLD-AGE HOME FOR LIONS
2006-06-05 at 10:48:00 am #15684
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
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.
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