Malcolm Moore in Rome, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:43am BST 29/07/2007
A Swiss zoo has provoked public dismay by culling two endangered Namibian lion cubs because it did not have space for them.
In June, Basel Zoo proudly announced that a five-year-old lioness, imported from Namibia, had given birth to four cubs; three males and one female. However, last week the zoo decided to put two of the male cubs to sleep and feed their carcasses to other animals. It explained that the lion enclosure was not big enough for them and said it could not find another zoo to adopt them.
Thomas Jermann, a curator, said that if the cubs had been put in the enclosure, they would have posed a threat to the leading male in the pride, who would have killed them. “In nature, most of the cubs die within the first year. This is normal,” he said.
The zoo has kept one male and one female, but admits it will also have to find them a home. “We tried every zoo we could think of. Hopefully, it will be easier to find a home for two,” said Mr Jermann.
He said it was normal to cull cubs and to feed them to other animals. “If there are animals you can feed them to, you feed them. It is the same as a farm, we are producers of meat, and we put the meat into the food chain,” he said.
However, the news caused dismay among animal lovers. The World Wildlife Fund in Switzerland said it was unhappy about the situation and Danilo Mainardi, the editor of the Italian Journal of Zoology, said it would have been preferable to limit the breeding of the lioness, rather than kill the cubs.
In the wild, it is rare for lionesses to give birth to several cubs, but in captivity it is relatively common. However, lion culls are rare in zoos in the developed world.
The lions in Basel Zoo are on the World Conservation Union’s red list of endangered species because hunting has reduced their population in Namibia to a few hundred.