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. Ethiopia's Famed Black-Maned Lions Being Stuffed For Lack Of Cash

The Abyssinia lions, or panthera leo abyssinica, are smaller than their east African cousins and the males have distinguishable black manes.
by Lea-Lisa Westerhoff
Addis Ababa (AFP) Nov 22, 2006
Dwindling finances and shrinking zoo space are reducing already declining population of Ethiopia's famed black-maned Abyssinian lions, the country's national symbol, to mere stuffed mementos. Despite concern among by conservationists, Addis Ababa's historic lion zoo, built nearly 60 years ago, has begun selling lion cubs to taxidermists because it is unable to feed the big cats and lacks room for their increasing numbers.

Zoo administrator Muhedin Abdulaziz said his 50,000-euro (64,000-dollar) budget was simply not enough to provide for more than 16 adult lions, which cannot be reintroduced to the wild.

"There is a shortage of place and a shortage of budget and when they are over-populated, most of the time we send them to taxidermists," Muhedin said, adding that he regretted the practice.

"It is not really good, but we do this is because of the problems we have," he said. "But we as experts are telling the government to extend these places to the countryside. That's the best solution."

"For the time being our immediate solution is to send them to the taxidermists, but the final and best solution is to extend the zoo into a wider area," Muhedin said.

The Abyssinia lions, or panthera leo abyssinica, are smaller than their east African cousins and the males have distinguishable black manes.

Experts say only 1,000 of them remain in the wild in Ethiopia's southern and eastern regions.

The culling is done by a vet who kills the cubs with poison. The bodies are sold to for about 140 euros (175 dollars) each to taxidermists who then retail the stuffed lions for 335 euros (400 dollars).

The zoo, built in 1949 during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, was intended to rear the animals for exhibition as symbols of his rule, which ended in 1974 when he was ousted by a pro-Soviet Maxist-Leninist military junta.

Currently, there are 15 adult lions and three cubs at the facility, which receives up to 1,200 visitors daily and is also home to monkeys, Egyptian ducks, rabbits and goldfish.

The director of the wildlife division of Ethiopia's agriculture ministry said he had no idea the lions were being culled.

"We are not aware that this is happening," said Tadese Haile, refusing to comment further on the matter.

A wildlife expert said he was offered 11 cubs last year but declined because he did not have enough land and he felt the government should inform the public about their plight to attract help.

"They have to create public awareness, there should be a lot of people interested in seeing lions," said the expert who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. "In Addis Ababa, there is no proper zoo."

"Some experts say these lions are no more in the wild and they should not be killed every year," he said. "They are part of our natural resources and we need to keep our natural resource."

However, it costs about 3,400 euros (4,000 dollars) per month to feed the 16 lions at the zoo and the government has refuse to hand them out because they are only found in the Horn of African country.

"They are endemic lions," Muhedin said. "They are not present anywhere else in the world so the government says you can't give them to other places."

"Our maximum capacity is for eight pairs of lions. We have two rooms for eight cubs, but when they grow we have to send them to the taxidermist, we don't have any other alternative," he added.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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