UAE donates 18 big cats to aid Pakistan zoo's captive breeding programme

The four white tigers, six Bengal tigers, and eight African lions will be transferred to Lahore Zoo in Punjab next week

Male Bengal tiger's face (Panthera tigris tigris), full frame
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The UAE has given a zoo in Pakistan 18 lions and tigers to help widen the gene pool of its big cat breeding programme.

The four white tigers, six Bengal tigers, and eight African lions have arrived in Islamabad and will be transferred to Lahore Zoo in Punjab next week.

The Ministry of Climate Change in Pakistan said the transfer came after the country appealed to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, about the possibility of sending some big cats to assist in its breeding programme.

"Inbreeding is the major issue in big cats in Punjab because the animals already kept by the department have been crossbreeding with their close relatives for years,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change said in a statement.

“Due to deleterious effects of inbreeding there are more chances of still births, genetic disorders, low immunity and tendency to accept different diseases more easily among the captive stock of big cats of the department.”

The big cats were pictured sedated shortly after arriving in the country.

Reports said the Punjab Wildlife Department plans to set up a breeding programme in the Chankara area with the help of UAE, while 25 acres of land have also been set aside for the Emirates to establish a falcon farm for breeding purposes in Murree, Punjab.

According to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), zoos play a vital role in conservation through breeding programmes, which are carefully managed to control numbers and prevent inbreeding.

“The aim is to ensure as much genetic variation in the captive population as possible and this is achieved with the aid of a studbook,” it said.

“Computer databases help compile studbooks that record the details of each individual animal on the programme, e.g. its sex, date of birth, and full ancestry. The Species Co-ordinator decides which animals will be paired for breeding and asks the zoos that hold them to transfer the animals.”

A number of species – including the Arabian oryx – even owe their survival to zoo captive breeding programmes, said ZSL.

Lahore Zoo, which opened in 1872, is believed to be the third or fourth oldest zoo in the world.

According to the Worldwide Zoo Database, the zoo has been successful in breeding rare and endangered local species, including the Black Bear, and has also transferred many wildlife species to other zoos and facilities across Pakistan.