Captive big cat breeding programs carry risk of death not present in the wild

There is a story in The Times today about animal rights groups up in arms over a lioness that was killed at Longleat Safari Park in the UK. There have been seven similar incidents at zoos and safari parks across Britain over the past seven years including this recent one at Longleat. The female was attacked suddenly and she was rapidly killed by another lion. It was probably a male although this is not reported. The public were never at any risk.

Longleat lioness
Longleat lioness. Image: Longleat.

It seems to me that there is an added risk to big cats particularly tigers and lions based on the stories I have seen when they are forced into breeding programs in captivity. When a male and female are joined together like this with the expectation and hope that they mate and produce offspring, there is a danger that one will reject the other and in doing so a fight will ensue with the possibility of injury and even death.

And the reason is that the attacked lion cannot escape because they are in captivity. They are confined by bars. As Chris Lewis, a research officer at Born Free said:

“These animals haven’t chosen to come into contact with each other like they would in the wild. Often in enclosures which are smaller than their wild habitat any sort of aggression can very quickly escalate.”

He added that similar attacks occurred in the wild but in zoos the animals were forced into breeding programs and they couldn’t escape when put together.

The Longleat Safari Park incident did not concern a breeding programme as far as I am aware but in 2019 at ZSL London Zoo a female Sumatran tiger named Melati was killed by a male after a mating introduction went badly wrong.

It’s unclear whether the following incidents were involved in a breeding programme but at Knowsley Safari Park in Prescott, Lancashire, an elderly male lion called Kenya had to be put down in 2015 after being mauled by lionesses.

Four years later at the same park, a male lion called Mojo was savaged by females. And last year an Amur tigress was killed by a potential mate during a breeding introduction.

And also, to lionesses at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling, in Scotland, had to be euthanised in 2021 after fighting with a male.

It seems to me that there is a battle of the sexes going on in some zoos linked to breeding programs and, as mentioned, because they are captive it can result in death which would have been less likely to have happened in the wild.

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Post Category: Cats > lions