Below are bullet points of the main issues covered in the full statement.
- Louisa the lioness arrived at Longleat in 2011 as an 18-month-old cub
- Louisa’s neurological condition was believed to be due to inadequate nutrition as a cub therefore there was no reason why she should not be allowed to breed
- Sadly Louisa’s first litter of cubs did not survive, there was a second, unplanned, mating which took place soon after and was not witnessed.
- The resulting offspring exhibited similar neurological conditions to Louisa, this prompted Longleat to do a thorough review of her genetic lineage
- This review uncovered moderate levels of inbreeding in her lineage 5-6 generations prior to her birth and having ruled out other causes was thought to be the most consistent reason for the condition noted in her and all of her cubs
- Due to the combination of genetic neurological disorders it was reluctantly, but unanimously, decided the only ethical action was to humanely euthanase Louisa and her cubs
- Decisions to euthanase are only taken as a very last resort once all other options have been thoroughly investigated
- Whilst this was the best course of action, and in the long term interests of the lion population as a whole, we fully understand that many will be saddened by the news, just as we were when having to make these difficult, but necessary, decisions
- Henry the male lion suffered severe injuries following a fight on January 7th – his wounds were so severe it was decided euthanasia was the only humane option on welfare grounds.
FULL STATEMENT - FEBRUARY 10TH 2014
The lioness Louisa arrived at Longleat in 2011 as an 18-month-old cub.
At the age of 13 months, at the collection where she was previously held, Louisa exhibited neurological clinical signs which were thought to have been caused by inadequate nutrition leading to hypovitaminosis A.
This was treated at the time but never fully resolved itself and she continued to exhibit clinical signs of head tilt and tremors throughout her life.
Despite suitable nutrition these neurological signs were present in her cubs, which were clearly distinct from other litters in the pride as they all individually exhibited adverse neurological signs such as ataxia, incoordination and odd aggressive behaviour that were not considered normal or appropriate compared to other animals within the collection.
Reviewing the genetic lineage of Louisa and her cubs it was found both Louisa's parents exhibited relatively high levels of inbreeding, prior to arrival, at a grand parentage level and great-grand parentage level (in some cases grandparents and great grandparents being the same animals).
Further reviews of the pathology of related animals revealed a high level of brain tumours, which had not previously been reported in lions, as well as a general failure of normal neurological development.
Longleat has never seen these problems in the many other cubs born here over the years and has an extremely good nutritional programme meaning that dietary inadequacies have never been an issue.
The only consistent link with all these neurological developmental disorders has been Louisa and this was attributed to her confused and poorly managed genetic history prior to her arrival at Longleat.
Longleat believes it would not have been responsible to translocate these animals to another collection, nor would any responsible zoological collection accept this particular group of lions, with the known high associated risks of neurological disorders and other genetically related health issues being passed on to later generations.
After considering the pressures in the group, due to the recent increase in pregnancies, and the developmental disorders present in the cubs it was reluctantly decided that euthanasia was the responsible option for these individuals.
There have been specific requests on why we let Louisa breed.
We feel strongly at Longleat that a lioness should be able to behave normally and be given the opportunity to breed where appropriate.
However this must be balanced with careful overall population management - ensuring there is space within the pride or homes are available in other collections.
In some cases contraception, where suitable, is also considered; especially with animals that are either well represented in a pride or deemed to not be suitable to breed.
Louisa unfortunately lost her first litter of cubs in early 2012 and this second, unplanned litter, came soon after without any subsequent mating having been witnessed.
At that stage we believed the neurological condition was related to Louisa's inappropriate nutrition as a cub and that her cubs, in an appropriate environment, would be healthy.
Sadly it was apparent this was not the case with the second litter that survived but exhibited similar neurological signs to their mother.
As a result we reviewed her parentage and her genetic background and discovered the high level of inbreeding in her distant genetic past, which we believe is related to the conditions noted.
Henry was a separate case, and his injuries were a result of aggression from both his brother and Louisa, who attacked him on the 7th January.
His wounds were severe, and despite veterinary review and management, it was decided euthanasia was the only humane option on welfare grounds.
These decisions involve communication with all of our current staff, management team and with independent external ethical reviews undertaken to ensure we are consistent with best practice.
We fully understand that many will be saddened by the news, just as we were when having to make these difficult, but necessary, decisions.
FEBRUARY 9TH 2014
Over the last 6 months there has been a large increase in pregnancies amongst the lions in one of the enclosures at Longleat resulting in a 40% increase in population.
This increase in population within the enclosure space has resulted in excessive violent behavior amongst the lions putting 21 of them at risk.
Sadly one lion, Henry had to be put down earlier this year due to injuries from an attack within the enclosure.
The further lions referred to were put down due to associated and severe health risks. Longleat have arranged for a further 5 lions from this enclosure to be moved to other premises in due course in order to alleviate the issue.
Longleat takes the upmost care in trying to protect the welfare and safety of all its animals.