Sunday, March 04, 2012

Orphaned lionesses learn motherhood at Junagadh zoo

Orphaned lionesses learn motherhood at Junagadh zoo
Times of  India By Vijaysinh Parmar

This may well be called the mother of all experiments in conservation of Asiatic Lions. Sakkarbaug Zoo officials in Junagadh have successfully taught motherhood to four lionesses that were orphaned as cubs.

Forest officials observed that when orphaned female cubs turned adult in captivity and gave birth, they did not know how to take care of their little ones, as they had never lived with their mothers. "As a result, almost half of the cubs born to an orphaned lioness during the first littering died," said a senior forest official. The cubs died due to malnutrition as the mother did know how to feed them. Many died when she tramped upon them or did not lift them properly.

Sakkarbaug Zoo officials observed this behaviour of such lionesses through CCTV cameras placed in enclosures. In 2008, a lioness gave birth to three cubs but did not care for them and they were left to fend for themselves. "These cubs were brought out of the cage and given hand rearing to reduce the mortality," said R L Meena, chief conservator of forests, wildlife division, Junagadh. However, as hand rearing and artificial feeding is not advisable, the zoo officials began an experiment. They kept a four-year-old orphaned lioness close to another female which was raising its cubs normally.

"The orphaned lioness started observing how the other lioness took care of the cubs, fed them milk and lifted them. We achieved a major success when this orphaned lioness, whose first three cubs had died, later properly raised her three other cubs," said V J Rana, director, Sakkarbaug Zoo,

This experiment of teaching 'motherhood' to orphaned lioness was carried out on three other females and all gave birth to three cubs each and raised them successfully. Of these, two lionesses were shifted to Ramapara vidi in Rajkot district where gene pools are being created to conserve the genetic diversity of Asiatic lions.

"This experiment is very important to conserve Asiatic lions. We will be able to save more cubs and conserve animals," Dr Y V Zhala, head, conservation biology and animal ecology at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, told TOI.

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