London Zoo is exporting three lionesses to Schwerin Zoo in Germany in a rush to avoid what will probably be far more stringent export regulations after 1 January 2021 when the UK finally leaves the European Union. The zoo is exporting the cats to Germany to try and improve their chances of mating with a male at that zoo.
These are endangered Asiatic lions, which are far rarer than the African lion which, incidentally, is also rapidly becoming more endangered. Asiatic lions live in the Gir Forest in India (the top north-western corner of India). There are about 400 in that forest and therefore their conservation is particularly important. It is a chance for zoos to genuinely be involved in conservation work hence the urgency of this export of lionesses.
The three lionesses are: Rubi, Heidi and Indi. They’ve got to get them to Germany before Christmas. London Zoo had hoped that they would mate with the male Asiatic lion at their zoo, Bhanu, but the project failed. There’s no accounting for relationship chemistry between cats or humans.
The cats will be setting off from London Zoo on December 21. Heidi and Indi will be encouraged to mate with a male Asiatic lion who is being brought from France. Currently there are no plans for Rubi, aged eleven. Bhanu will be joined by a new female, Ayra, who is being transferred from Paignton Zoo, Devon.
The operation is imposing strain on the zoo in part because the coronavirus pandemic has had a severely negative impact on the zoo’s finances. Fortunately a fund manager, LionTrust, a sponsor, has paid £15,000 which covers most of the cost of the transfer to Germany. London Zoo has predicted a £20 million shortfall in visitor income for the year to next summer. They want new corporate partners and patrons to help fund it.
The rushed export of these lionesses has caused a slight problem in Germany as well because they had intended to bring them in after the opening of a new enclosure but that will not happen. Under current EU regulations zoo animals can be moved quite easily between zoos but after Brexit there might have to be a six-month quarantine period before leaving and a further thirty days on arrival depending on negotiations which are reaching a climax currently.
Brexit negotiations might lead to an agreement similar to the one enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland, which would eliminate the long quarantine periods but the problem at the moment is that the outcome of negotiations is unknown and there may be a hard Brexit. Further, haulage costs will rise after Brexit and customs checks will cause delays. From July it will only be possible to transfer animals by air. In addition to the lionesses, London Zoo has been involved in a programme of imports and exports over the past six months to try and match up animals to breed more successfully.