Viscount Weymouth, the 39-year-old son of the Marquess of Bath, had decided on a lion breeding program at the famous Longleat Safari Park that would ensure that there were always lion cubs at the park. Visitors love the cubs. People come to see them. They are a major attraction. The focus, as expected, was on customer demand. The Viscount is Executive Chairman of Longleat Enterprises Ltd and a Trustee & Investment Director of The Lion Trust¹.
Longleat Safari Park is in the grounds of 16th century home of the Marquess of Bath, in Wiltshire, England (Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 7NW, United Kingdom).
It seems that the idea was to encourage breeding but this lead to overbreeding and inbreeding which in turn lead to conflict between lions. There was excessively violent behaviour amongst the lions.
The end result of this shortsighted, captive lion mismanagement program was the secret killing of six lions, five of which were cubs. The sixth was an adult lion called Henry who was put down because of injuries sustained in a fight.
We are informed that of the five cubs, their mother injured three of them and the other two were deemed to be inbred. I find both reasons very disappointing. Even if the cubs were inbred, the problem was caused by recklessly allowing the lions to breed too closely. I presume family members were mating. It is very disappointing as these cubs were apparently healthily. They were “euthanised” but, in truth, this is not euthanasia as that word describes the killing of a terminally ill animal or human.
Employees of Longleat were in tears. You can imagine how connected and fond of the animals the keepers become; to kill healthy looking lion cubs is heartbreaking. Essentially, the Viscount achieved the exact opposite to his original goal because visitors protested and some threatened to boycott the safari park.
The Viscount has now appointed a new chief executive who it seems was the person to assess the poor situation and take steps to rectify it.
The reality is that there appears to have been a lack of appreciation of the innate needs of lions and an over-focus on customer demands. When a person commercializes animals he comes into conflict with ethical decision making – what is best for the animals is often not what is best for the customers.
Inbreeding of wild cat species, whether in the wild or in captivity is possibly the biggest threat to the survival of these species. For example, there are just not enough non-captive Siberian tigers to ensure that inbreeding does not take place. In captivity (in zoos) inbreeding is a massive headache. Inbreeding causes sterility which compounds the problem of low populations and genetic diversity. Male wild cat roaming avoids inbreeding. How can captive wild cats roam? The available space even at Longleat is far to small to accommodate the home range of lion. A male lion needs 65-184 square kilometers.
We are destined to create a world full of captive wild cats – few if any will remain in the wild, in which case we need to change our attitudes towards their management. It must be highly ethical.
- Story source: Times Newspaper 24th February 2014.
- Additional information from PoC.
- Original photo of lion by Rich Wareham Photography