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LAHORE, Dec 18: The casual attitude of the Punjab wildlife department to pairing of animals at Lahore Zoo, an extremely delicate aspect of captive breeding, is reflected in the concerned authorities' pick of 11-year-old female hippopotamus to partner the 43-year-old male that has almost completed the average life span of the species.

The male hippopotamus was imported for the zoo on Jan 16, 1974. It was the first ever hippo in the zoo and it was six-year old. He was named Raja. The hippo has been an attractive exhibit of the zoo since then.

The authorities concerned failed to import any female hippo for pairing for 32 years and at last on July 11, 2006, a 6-year old female was purchased for the purpose. After its import, the female was kept in a separate portion of the hippo's enclave because of the aggressive behaviour of both the animals towards each other.

Finally, when the pair started behaving normally, they were joined on Jan 4, 2008, but no mating could occur because the male was too old to mate, sources said.

According to wildlife experts, for a male hippopotamus the age of puberty is 7.5 years and for female it is 5-6 years. The age of zoo's male hippo is 43 years while the female is almost 11-year old. The average life span of hippopotamus is 35 to 50 years.

The oldest hippo living in captivity is 57-year old female Donna at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana, US. The oldest hippo ever recorded was also a female, Tanga, at Munich, Germany. She died in 1995 at the age of 61.

The sources said animal pairing was a crucial issue the Punjab wildlife department was facing in all its parks and zoos. They said the zoo had now a large number of birds and animals without proper pairing.

They said the issue was also taken up at a departmental meeting headed by Punjab wildlife and parks director Qadeer Mahal. The meeting was told that a number of animals and birds had pairing problems at the Lahore Zoo and Lahore Zoo Safari. The meeting was attended by Lahore Zoo Director Iqbal Khalid, Zoo Management Committee (ZMC) member Dr Riffat Suleman, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Conservation Director Uzma Khan, Lahore Zoo Safari Deputy Director Riaz Ahmed and Zoo Education Officer Bushra Nisar Khan.

It was decided at the meeting the ZMC should work on proper pairing of animals, besides the lions' blood line. The ZMC was asked to contact the private owners having lions with different blood lines for breeding loans or make arrangements for exchange of big cats with other zoos and park in the country to help change the genetic line of the existing stock at the zoo.

Odd pairing creates numerous problems for the animals and the major one is lack of breeding.

Other zoo animals and birds suffering pairing problems include Jungle (wild) cat, otter wolf, Jackal, brown bear, chimpanzees, black footed grey languor, white and black colobus monkeys, llama, red deer, Punjab urial, sambar, sika deer, red necked wallaby, wild boar, cassowary, coot, blossom headed parakeet, painted stork, orange winged Amazon, blue crowned pigeons, mute swan and black swan.