CAIRO: Efforts put into birth control nowadays are apparently not only directed towards Egypt’s increasing population, but have recently been applied to the Giza Zoo’s biggest attraction: the lions.
While many species are absent from the zoo altogether, the lions seem to be available in abundance, costing the zoo a lot of money, and driving it to resort to birth control methods.
“It’s a problem that has been accumulating throughout the years, it didn’t just come into play now,” said General Manager of the Giza Zoo, Nabil Sidky.
The zoo has been using alternative methods of birth control. “Birth control pills were the last method we resorted to,” he explained.
The zoo has also been using isolation methods whereby they isolate the males from the females.
However, just like humans, lions have different characteristics; there are the troublemakers and hostile ones who always start a fight, explained Sidky.
“These troublemakers we had to isolate from the rest, so there are individual isolations,” he said, “All this needs space so the matter got out of hand.”
There are currently 45 lions at the Giza Zoo, living in 16 conventional cages and 11 open cages.
The lions are becoming increasingly costly for the zoo to afford. “First of all they are a large number, so it costs us space, add to that nutrition and health care,” explained Sidky.
Each lion costs the zoo an average of LE 20,000 a year.
While some argue that selling the lions to other zoos is a better way to control their number, rather than using birth control methods, Sidky explained that the number of lions exchanged or sold every year is very small.
An average of two to three lions is sold every year, he said, while a lioness gives birth to three to four cubs at a time.
Sidky added that other African countries, rather than Egypt, are international zoos’ market of choice, where lions are better bred and are cheaper.
“We currently have 17 lions that are [of no use to other zoos],” said Sidky, “They are old and unfit for display, they cannot reproduce anymore and on top of that they suffer growing health problems,” he explained.
The Giza Zoo proposed resorting to euthanasia in order to put these lion to sleep to save money for the zoo. However, Egypt’s laws and regulations prevent the use of euthanasia.
“Euthanasia is used all over the world and accepted everywhere, we have been lobbying for this for quite some time but all the governmental bodies are refusing it,” said Sidky.
While the zoo has provided official documents based on medical tests that prove that 17 lions are no longer fit for display and are costing the zoo LE 340,000 every year, the government rejected their proposal to put them to sleep because they are state property.
“The lions being highly active and reproducing at the Giza Zoo shows that they are living in an environment that is as good as their natural habitat so they are able to lead lives just as the ones living in the wild,” explained Rifaat Abdel Hasib, supervisor of the lions at the Giza Zoo.
Amina Tharwat Abaza, founder and president of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE) and Egyptian Ambassador for World Animal Day, highlighted the problem with the increasing number of lions in the zoo.
“I think that the Giza Zoo has waited for too long until they decided to find a solution to the lions’ problems,” she said.
“We didn’t need to have 30 plus lions in one zoo because one or two lions are enough, people who want to see a lion can know what a lion is by seeing one or two.
“Moreover, the zoo lions eat donkeys and the killing of these donkeys is barbaric; they kill one in front of the other and are starving them for days before slaughtering them for food to the lions.
“The more lions there are in the zoo, the more donkeys will be killed,” explained the animal rights activist.
Abaza believes that the best way to control birth is to spay the female lion instead of giving her hormones.
Abaza added that the zoo doesn’t have enough money to feed the lions. “Many visitors, not even animal lovers, were shocked at the condition of the lions,” she said, pointing out mistreatments by lion keepers.
However, from an animal rights’ perspective, Abaza is against euthanasia as a means for solving the problem. “Why don’t they send the lions to a rehabilitating sanctuary in Africa instead of killing them?” she said, adding that there are many international organizations ready to help the Giza Zoo.
On a final note, Abaza said, “Nabil Sidky is very intelligent and has already made positive changes in the Giza Zoo … I hope they will work to save the lions, work on the cruel treatment of the donkeys used for food and also stop displaying dogs in the zoo … I think we are the only zoo in the world displaying dogs and cats.”