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 lion and Viscount Weymouth

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.

Refs:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Story source: Times Newspaper 24th February 2014.
  3. Additional information from PoC.
  4. Original photo of lion by Rich Wareham Photography
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • It's mind boggling that humans' only answer to their own failures and blunderings with any cat is to kill them.

  • Many times i have thought of just locking my house and trotting the globe as a "BACKPACKER TOURIST", since i am a self-employed bachelor with no immediate close human family attachments.Alas, its my two cats and parakeet that keep me from undergoing a long World tour as i emotionally can never ever think of giving them away or confining them to a stranger for months.I consider my pets my close non-human family and would never part with them unless "DEATH DO PART US" ! Its sad reading about this article of the park lions of Longleat Safari Park, a tragedy of human mismanagement. I am also of the opinion that the future of all the World's big cats will finally be in "ZOO"S' under lock and key.

  • British "nobility" are buffoons, blundering on interfering with things they should stay well away from, I just wish they, and the "royal" family would keep the hell away from all types of wild animals because whatever they do, in the end they do more harm than good. :-(

  • More tragedy - at least this time ‘the people’ got to say what they think and even had an ability to threaten by not going. That is good. These ‘zoos’ should be forced to face up to what they do - they need to be more transparent. If I was an employee who loved those lions I would quit and run away if I didn’t feel a duty to the remaining animals. When you love an animal there is nothing you can do - there is no turning back - you will protect that animal until you are unable to.

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