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We had to say goodbye to Asian lioness Mette on Wednesday, July 12th after discussions between the coordinator of the European population management program in Aalborg (Denmark) and the veterinarians, curators, and caregivers in Blijdorp. She was four years old and born in Rotterdam.

From a young age, Mette struggled with neurological issues. This was evident in her abnormal gait, causing her to stumble often. Her symptoms worsened over time, and she deteriorated. Blijdorp didn't want to wait for the moment when she would be unable to stand. Her sisters, Asha and Reena, also have neurological symptoms but are currently less affected than Mette. For some time now, it's known that such neurological symptoms occur in more Asian lions in zoos and in the wild.

For this reason, there's an extensive study in collaboration with the European population management program and the University of Utrecht to identify the cause and prevalence of these neurological symptoms (ataxia), initiated by Blijdorp. This is crucial for the survival of the small remaining group of Asian lions in zoos and the wild. Mette's body will also be examined by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Utrecht.

The Asian lions in Blijdorp are part of a backup population to diversify risks and prevent extinction. In the wild, Asian lions are only found in the Gir Forest National Park, a protected area in Northwest India, with about 600 individuals left. Around 1900, there were fewer than twenty Asian lions remaining. All existing Asian lions are descendants of that small group.

Blijdorp has received a recommendation from the coordinator of the European population management program to introduce a new young breeding male to Lalana, Mette's mother, to form a genetically significant pair. Lalana doesn't have neurological issues.

Asian lions are less social than their African counterparts; they live in smaller groups. There are also visual differences. In general, Asians are slightly smaller, and the males have less dense manes. They also have a skin fold running the full length of their belly. The Asian lions are housed in a renovated national monument in Blijdorp with a spacious and green outdoor area.

Photo: Jolanda Berkelmans