Cubs give birth to a new gene pool
The Times of India
The Times of India
A lioness licks her cub at the Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat.
Five new cubs, born in the last one year, may provide a shield against weakening genes of Gujarat's Gir lions. At a time when experts say that inbreeding has weakened the unique wild cat's genetic structure, the cubs, born at the Rampara Virdi centre, have given birth to a separate gene pool.
Two pairs of lions from completely different areas were captured and brought to Rampara to ensure that the genes differed. "If the lioness was from Sasan, the lion would be from a far off area of Tulsishyam or even Bhavnagar," a forest officer told TOI.
B B Limbasia, deputy conservator of forests, said, "Eight cubs were born to the pairs of which one died and two have infections and are being treated at the Sakkarbaugh zoo in Junagadh."
Among concerns raised by experts, a study by Stephen J O'Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Viral Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute in Maryland, revealed, "A limited sample of Gir lion from Sakarbaugh zoo revealed high levels of spermatozoal abnormalities. These results affirm the hypothesis that genetic diminishment of natural population may have unfavourable physiological effect such as increased spermatozoal abnormalities."
Experts say inbreeding and loss of genetic variation decreases the ability of wild populations to adapt to climatic changes and makes them vulnerable to new diseases, parasites and pollutants.
Officials said the success of Rampara has virtually defeated the purpose of shifting the lions to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. MP had based its petition on the need for a separate gene pool. Rampara is far away from the original home.
Creation of new gene pool also eases the burden on Gir sanctuary. The protected area has around 300-odd lions, but has a capacity for just 280-odd lions.
Every possible measure should be taken to preserve the Asiatic lion, given that Gujarat is the only home of this unique species in the world. The support of the people has so far ensured that the wild cat prospers in the state, but inbreeding is a major threat which is weakening its genetic structure and making it vulnerable to biological disorders and epidemics. A separate gene pool of the lion would not only ensure healthier animals, but protect it against catastrophic diseases.