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Rare Lion Cubs Poisoned at Zoo to Save Costs

November 22, 2006

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Rare Abyssinian lion cubs are being poisoned at a zoo in Ethiopia and sold to taxidermists because there isn’t enough money to care for the animals, the facility’s administrator said Wednesday.

Famous for their black manes, the lions are revered in Ethiopia, adorning statues and the national currency. Wildlife experts estimate only 1,000 of the animals, which are smaller than other lions, remain in the wild.

“These animals are the pride of our country, but our only alternative right now is to send them to the taxidermist,” said Muhedin Abdulaziz, who heads the Lion Zoo in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The zoo costs about $6,000 to run each month, but gets only $5,000 in entrance fees, he said. Taxidermists pay $170 for a dead cub, which is stuffed and resold, Abdulaziz said. Hunters also kill wild lions for their skins, which can fetch $1,000.

The Lion Zoo has poisoned six cubs so far this year, Abdulaziz said, adding that the practice has been going on at least since he arrived two years ago. He did not say how many cubs have been killed over the years.

The zoo director said federal wildlife officials monitor the poisoning, which he described as painless. Officials of the national government did not immediately return calls for comment.

“I feel so sorry about this,” said Girma Chifra, 25, who was visiting the zoo Wednesday. “They’re a symbol of our country. I didn’t know they were killing the cubs. This is not good.”

Mesganu Arga, head of the Information and Culture Bureau in Addis Ababa, said the city was looking into the matter.

“These are rare animals and a treasure to the country,” Mesganu said. “We are promoting these lions.”

The Lion Zoo is a popular attraction, although international wildlife groups have expressed concern about its ramshackle facilities. Built in 1948 by Emperor Haile Selassie, it houses 16 adult lions and five cubs in cages surrounded by barbed wire.

Animal conservation groups expressed outrage at the killings.

James Isiche, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Nairobi, Kenya, said the zoo should prevent the animals from breeding if it can’t care for them.

“Enforcement to protect these animals is critical,” he said.

The Born Free Foundation called for an investigation into the animals’ treatment.

“We would encourage the authorities to take action to establish, at the very least, a sanctuary for lions and to enforce whatever laws are necessary to prevent those lions from being unnecessarily killed, sold or given into trade, alive or dead,” said Will Travers, chief executive at the British-based foundation.

Associated Press writer Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Born Free Foundation: http://www.bornfree.org.uk




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