Edinburgh Zoo's vital role saving endangered lion species

A pair of critically endangered lionesses at Edinburgh Zoo could soon be transferred to a European zoo to help boost their species' survival hopes.

By George Mair
Monday, 22nd November 2021, 12:30 pm

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.Asiatic lioness Roberta and her daughter Mitaali, born in 2019, could move from Scotland as part of the European Endangered Species Programme.

The lions are critically endangered in the wild and there may be as few as 350 left, restricted to the Gir Forest in India, giving greater importance to captive zoo populations.

Roberta, noted for her genetic importance, was selected to breed with Edinburgh's resident male Jeyendra and two years ago the pair produced three cubs, female Mitaali and her two brothers Keshari and Kushanu.

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Roberts could be on her travels. (Pic: RZSS)

However, the studbook that records the genetic diversity of the species has dictated that there should be no more cubs from the pairing and Roberta was recently given a temporary contraceptive implant to prevent further breeding with Jeyendra.

Meanwhile, the adult pair has been separated from the cubs so that Jeyendra would not attempt to breed with his daughter.

However, further action is now necessary as the cubs are reaching an age when the male cubs may begin to be interested in their sister.

Edinburgh Zoo's pride of Asiatic Lions: Jeyendra with Mitaali and her two brothers Keshari and Kushanu. (Pic: RZSS)

A solution may have been found after a zoo in Europe expressed an interest in a pairing with its adult male, and both females could leave Scotland in early 2022.

Darren McGarry, Head of Living Collections at the Zoo, said: "Our adult female Roberta is important for the breeding programme as she is genetically diverse and hasn't produced a lot of offspring.

"Together with our male, she has produced three cubs and their line is now quite well represented. However, they do want to breed from our lioness again.

"There is a European zoo that wants to take our two females as they currently have a pair of elderly lions that have not bred. They are waiting until December to see if their female does mate and if not then they will take our two females.

"If you send a mother and daughter, the likelihood is they will be quite happy together living with another male.”

It is planned that the three males will remain at Edinburgh. Jeyendra could be vasectomised and the two male cubs castrated to live out their lives together.The Asiatic lion family is featured in BBC Scotland series Inside the Zoo to be shown tonight [MON].Viewers will see Roberta given a contraceptive implant to prevent her breeding with Jayendra again, while vets carefully anaesthetise the big cat.The cubs - born as part of the European Endangered Species Programme - are the first offspring fo Roberta and Jayendra and have been described as "a potential lifeline" for the species.They will stay at Edinburgh Zoo for up to two years before being sent to other collections in the breeding programme, mirroring when they would naturally disperse in the wild.The Asiatic lion differs from the African lion in several ways. Asian lions are generally smaller than their African cousins, and the males do not develop such a substantial mane, so their ears are more visible.

* Inside the Zoo is on BBC Scotland tonight [Monday, November 22] AT 8pm

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