How to juggle lions

Published: 31 July 2013

How to juggle lions

Neil Bemment is juggling lions at Paignton Zoo.

One of the many jobs of a zoo curator is to make sure all the animals in the collection are in exactly the right place. And at the moment Neil has six lions to accommodate.

Neil is Paignton Zoo’s Curator of Mammals and Director of Operations: “Paignton Zoo is involved in numerous international breeding programmes. Asiatic lions are classed as Endangered – there are fewer than 400 surviving in the wild. Every cub born into the breeding programme could be one step closer to survival.”

The Zoo is planning a major change in the lion paddock. Male Mwamba is leaving and most of the cubs born last year have been allocated to other collections.

Mwamba was born in 2004 and arrived from Twycross in August 2006. Indu was born at Paignton Zoo in 2003. They had some unsuccessful litters before their spectacular triumph in May 2012, when four cubs were born and raised.

“Mwamba is still needed to contribute to the breeding programme whereas Indu is not, or at least, not for the time being. So he is going to Dudley Zoo.”

The cubs have also been assigned new homes and will probably move later this year or early in 2014. Male Jari is moving to Plankendael Zoo, in Belgium, his brother Sabal to Krakow Zoo, Poland and female Zarina to Frankfurt Zoo in Germany, although this last move is not finalised.

Neil: “This will leave us with Indu and the other female cub Maliya and possibly Zarina for a while. They may be needed for breeding in due course, at which point we would bring in a new male. If Indu was not to breed again then we would implant her with a contraceptive or send her to another zoo for exhibition only.

“We are sorry to be losing Mwamba as he was quite a character, but pleased that he is going on hopefully to sire more cubs. It’s also great news that those cubs he produced here will also be moving on to make their contribution to this highly important breeding programme.”

Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. Fewer than 400 survive in the wild in the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary in India. There are conservation breeding programmes in zoos including a European Endangered species Programme (EEP).
The Asiatic lion is smaller than the African and has a distinctive fold of skin on the belly. Also, the Asiatic male's mane is smaller and lighter in colour.

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