India: Lions facing genetic ailments due to inbreeding
Himachal Pradesh lion safari loses roar
16 Sep 2008, 1129 hrs IST,IANS
NAHAN: Eight Asiatic lions at the Renuka lion safari in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh are fighting a losing battle against diseases and abnormalities brought about by inbreeding.
“The lions in the safari are facing genetic ailments due to inbreeding. The entire population of lions is the progeny of a pair brought from Trichur in Kerala in 1977. This has weakened the bloodline and their immunity to disease,” Forest Minister J.P. Nadda said.
“The entire stock of lions in the safari has grown very old and become genetically weak,” said Nadda.
“Majority of the lion population is between the age group of 16 and 19, which is quite close to the maximum age of the caged animals,” said divisional forest officer (wildlife) Nagesh Guleria.
At one time, their number had increased to 29. Now the safari, which started in 1975, is home to one lion and seven lionesses.
Between 2002 and 2008, seven lions and one lioness died.
“They (the lions) are victims of the indifference of the wildlife wing of the forest department,” said R.S. Kishtwaria of the College of Veterinary Sciences, Palampur.
“The flawed reproduction programme for the past three decades has weakened their bloodline and devastated their gene pool. The entire stock has lost the Asiatic lion’s basic characteristics and immunity to disease. Most of them are now so weak that they cannot run or play. They even make fewer movements than an average lion does,” he added.
On May 23, 1975, a pair of lions was first brought to the safari from Junagarh in Gujarat. Due to a change in the climatic conditions, the pair died.
After that, another pair was brought here from Trichur in Kerala. The pair gave birth to its first cub in 1980.
Interestingly, the entire present population of the wildcats at the safari is the progeny of the first cub. Now the breeding has been stopped by separating the lonely male from the females.
“The problem started in 1991 when a male suffering from bent neck condition was brought here from Punjab’s Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park. It was involved in breeding till 1998. The genetic abnormality of the male got transferred to its offspring,” wildlife chief conservator Lalit Mohan said.
“Between January 1998 and May 2000 seven cubs died due to genetic disorders,” he added.
“The wildlife wing does not want to spend money on these ‘useless’ creatures as they may not survive many years,” said a senior official who requested anonymity.