LAHORE: The Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department sold 14 African lions from Lahore Zoo Safari Park to private breeding farms out of a total of 39 big cats because of lack of space, sources told Dawn.

Sources said some eight or nine African lions would also be sold from Lahore Zoo after the situation would normalise. The earlier sales had been carried out before coronavirus scenario in early days of March.

Punjab Wildlife and Parks Director Naeem Bhatti, when asked about the sales, told Dawn on Monday that owing to lack of space at Zoo Safari and to avoid inbreeding issues, the department decided to sell the African lions. He said the big cats were sold at the government rate – Rs150,000 per animal.

Mr Bhatti said another factor was that all [sold] lions were partially crippled; however were productive for breeding.

“We explained to private breeding farm owners that the lions were partially crippled before the sales and they had no objection to that. The sales were carried out by an arrangement done by Punjab Wildlife Department and Parks head office at the approved rated by the finance department on a first-come, first-served basis.

Mr Bhatti said the remaining lions at the Zoo Safari would be cross-bred with the lions gifted by the United Arab Emirates some time back to avoid inbreeding; similarly the private farmers who had bought lions from the department would also be able to avoid inbreeding by having crossed their own lions with the ones they got from the department.

The wildlife officials said since the department was facing space shortage at Safari and there was also a heavy load on feed expenditure that’s why the decision had been taken. The department could save Rs15 million on account of feed.

The sale of some eight or nine lions from Lahore Zoo is also on the cards whereas it currently has 29 African lions.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020