Family of 13 Asiatic Lions is facing health hazard. Situation has now taken serious turn and has converted into ‘death sentence’ for this family as these popular Lions would disappear from the scene of Renuka Ji after a few years in the absence of their next generation.

A Lion Safari spread over seven hectare of forest land on the bank of pious Shri Renuka Ji Lake is home for a family of 13 Asiatic Lions. It attracts lacs of tourists and wild life lovers every year but hardly any visitor know that this large family of Lions is facing hard time due to genetic ailments as a result of over 30 years inbreeding. State Wild Life Wing of Forest Department has added more woe in their fight by ignoring directions of Central Zoo Authority [CZA] of India since long in this regard.

Recent decision of the state Wild Life department to implement CZA directions has brought a relief for the nature and wild life lovers. Department has principally decided to carry out sterilization on the lion family in Renuka to stop further reproduction and end long separation of three lions from the rest of their family.

The 13 members Lion family which a few years back had rose to 29 is the progeny of a pair of Asiatic Lions brought from Trichur in Kerla in the year of 1977 by the government of Himachal Pradesh. The continuous inbreeding within the family would have been stopped long back by introducing cross breeding with other species of Lions by the authorities of Wild Life department but due to carelessness on this part it was not done. The Lions family developed genetic ailment, poor immunity to diseases and weakness. They are not able to run or play freely. Infect they had lost most of the characteristics of Asiatic Lions and immunity to even small infections.

After reported symptoms of genetic ailments a study was conducted by the veterinary experts of CCMB Hydrabad, subject experts of HP Agriculture University and CZA of India. Finally CZA wrote Renuka Zoo authorities in 2001 and 2002 not to allow further inbreeding among the Lions. This report also put an halt on the proposal of exchanging big cats with the Chat Bir and other Zoos in the country which was moved by the department to reduce the over burden of a large family of Lions on the mere 7 hectare lion safari which was quite insufficient for housing 14 lions and also to improve the lion species by adopting cross breeding with other healthy males. ‘Reports clearly indicated to stop further inbreeding from this family of Lions which has clear cut meaning that the family was now facing ‘death sentence’ as this blood line would finish completely in Renuka lion Safari after a few years with the death of remaining animals. There would be no next generation of this lion family’, comments Roshan Lal, a retired forest officer and regular visitor of the Lion Safari.

Finally, to implement the CZA directions six lions were separated from the rest of Lion family and were kept in a small enclosure. After several round of consultations department in the year of 2001 took step to carry out vasectomy on the Lions. Two lions were however successfully sterilized but during the process of vasectomy one Lion called Raju could not tolerate the dose of anesthesia and died. This incident took place in the month of March 2001, which raised several questions on the technicalities adopted veterinary surgeons and proved to be a discouraging incident for veterinary surgeons and officers of Wild Life department. After this incident departmental officer could not gather courage to sterilize rest of three lions as they feared that if some thing wrong happened during the process of vasectomy it would again bring bad name to them. This hackle of the officials prolonged the captivity of forest king in the cage for the past over five years.

After some time two successfully sterilized lions were released with the family of eight Lioness in the Safari but three Kings of forests have still been kept in the same enclosure which was quite insufficient for three lions as per experts. The lions in the enclosure have developed intolerance and abnormal behaviour due to long segregation. They fight with each other, growl constantly and get angry after noticing a few visitors near the fence or on calling them with their names. Even after losing several endanger species of these lions in past seven years state government had not appointed a regular wild life veterinarian to carry out regular medical examinations of lion family, five member bear family and a pair of Leopard along with many other birds and other wild animals.

When contacted Mr. Nagesh Kumar Gularia, DFO Wild Life Himachal Pradesh confirmed the decision of the department to sterilize all the lions and lioness in the Renuka Zoo. He said that he had discussed the matter in detail with the veterinarians of Palampur Agriculture University and it has been agreed that after two to three months when heat is reduced in the atmosphere this process would be started. When asked about the sterilization of lionesses he replied that the blood line of these lions had weakened and further reproduction through them was not advisable.

Mr. Guleria said that till date no proposal to transfer lions to some other Zoo in the country had materialized. He said that department had prepared a list of 120 animals of different categories and birds which had been declared surplus in the Renuka, Tuti Kandi and Kufri Zoos. The list had already been circulated among the different Zoos in the country. He said that if any demand is received from any Zoo department would decide keeping in mind several considerations for the smooth housing of these animals in the proposed Zoos. He said that in addition to a large family of lions department had around twenty leopards in the different Zoos. He said that to reduce over burden of the Zoos exchange or transfer of animals was the only way ‘we can not leave them in the forests for many reasons including manual feeding food habits which developed in the Zoos’.

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