On the 19th of December, Leo Foundation board members Laura Bertola and Hans de Iongh attended a special meeting in Givskud zoo. Main topic was the development of a breeding program for the two different subspecies of lions in European zoos. This is important, because it allows us to minimize the loss of genetic diversity and reduce the risk of inbreeding. The attendees of the meeting were the chair of the Felid Taxon Advisory Group (responsible for all breeding programs for cat species in European zoos), a geneticist of Copenhagen Zoo, staff of Givskud Zoo, Klaas Vrieling (Leiden University), Laura Bertola and Hans de Iongh.
Givskud zoo had asked Leiden University to do a genetic analysis of 62 lions kept in zoos associated with the European Association for Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Results give insight into the genetic diversity within EAZA, and to which extend this mirrors the genetic diversity of lions in the wild.
The chair of the Felid Taxon Advisory Group will make a recommendation for a separate breeding program for lions from West- and Central Africa, and another breeding program for lions from East- and Southern Africa. A special breeding program for Asiatic lions is already in place. In this way, the genetic diversity we find in wild lions can be reflected and maintained in the captive population as well. In addition, zoo lions can be used as a ‘back up’ if a certain subspecies gets extinct in the wild. Specifically lion populations in West- and Central Africa are critically endangered and interest of zoos in this subspecies is an important step forward to conserve these lions.