‘Efforts being made to save Persian lion from extinction’

June 25, 2019

TEHRAN – Tehran Zoological Garden has developed plans for reproduction of endangered Asiatic lion, and the lion couple have been sent to the zoo for its great efforts to meet the defined standards, a veterinarian at Tehran’s Eram Zoo has said.

Disappeared for 80 years, Persian lion once prowled from the Middle East to India, while currently only a fraction of these magnificent animals survive in the wild, which range is restricted to the Gir National Park and environs in the Indian state of Gujarat.

A male Persian lion, born 6 years ago, was sent to Tehran Zoological Garden from Britain’s Bristol Zoo on May 1, under a population management program aiming at endangered species reproduction by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).

Iran recently hosted a female lion of the same subspecies from Ireland to accompany the male lion through the conservation program.

The female lion now is being kept in the zoo and so far has met her male companion, Fars news agency quoted Iman Memarian as saying on Monday.

“We are trying to get the couple to get to know each other gradually until they get used to living together,” he further noted.

He went on to say that we have plans to reproduce endangered species and save them from extinction, and all the process is under control.

Considering that Persian lion is a symbol in Iran’s wildlife, many environment lovers were interested to see such valuable species but it disappeared due to uncontrolled hunting and lack of prey, he lamented, adding, therefore, we tried to show how important it is to preserve the wildlife by returning the lions back to their motherland.

During the past years, Tehran Zoological Garden has succeeded in becoming a member of EAZA, and the Asiatic lions have been transferred to the Zoo for captive breeding under the association’s supervision, he highlighted.

Two male lion siblings of the same subspecies were inhabiting in Houston city in Texas, United states, he stated, adding, one of them lost his life due to the physical problems, thus, the lion returned to Iran from Britain is the most valuable and healthy one.

Selling or buying animals in European zoos is banned, and the female lion was given to Iran because of our compliance with the EAZA standards, Memarian also highlighted.

Referring to the cost of keeping wild species, he said that lions feed on 10 to 15 kilograms of lamb and poultry daily, which are so expensive.

Criticizing the approaches claiming that zoos endanger wildlife species for their own interests, he said that some think that when an animal is in the cage, it is not feeling well at the moment, however, one should bear in mind that animals have different needs, all of which can be provided at standard zoos.

Previously, we needed to withdraw a blood sample from animals which caused them stress, but now we can test them through their feces and urine, he further stated.

Also, it is possible to measure the amount of hormones in the body through the urine and feces of animals, so researches show that the level of wildlife satisfaction in standard zoos is even higher than their level of satisfaction in nature, he added.

Lion is among the flagship species which is attractive to people, and because of them, smaller animals are known, so, we do our best to conserve the species in the country, Memarian concluded.

In conservation biology, a flagship species is chosen to stimulate people to provide money or support for biodiversity conservation in a given place or social context. The use of flagship species has been dominated by large bodied animals, especially mammals, like Asiatic cheetah.

Threats pushed Persian lions toward extinction

On the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, Asiatic lion is listed under its former scientific name Panthera leo persica as Endangered because of its small population size and area of occupancy.

Historical records in Iran indicate that the Asiatic lion ranged from the Khuzestan Plain to the Fars in steppe vegetation and pistachio-almond woodlands. It was widespread in the country, but in the 1870s, it was sighted only on the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains, and in the forest regions south of Shiraz.

Some of the country's last lions were sighted in 1941 between Shiraz and Jahrom in Fars province, and in 1942, a lion was spotted about 65 km northwest of Dezful. In 1944, the corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of Karun River in Khuzestan province.

Conflicts with humans, wildfires, poaching, habitat loss, canine distemper virus, decreases in population sizes of native ungulates were among the threats pushed the lions toward extinction in Iran, while lack of protection measures and plans is not deniable either.

FB/MQ/MG