A caged life without a mate. Tempers of Dhaka zoo animals fray

Mukta and Koli, two lionesses, are living a lonely life in the cages of the National Zoo in Dhaka’s Mirpur. A female rhinoceros isn’t lucky either.

With a life devoid of a male companion, these animals are showing 'nerves' in their behaviour, officials at the Mirpur zoo said.

They are unable to comfort the animals having no companion amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mirpur zoo houses three African and one Asiatic lion with only one male among them.

In 2018, two lions and two lionesses were brought to the Mirpur zoo from Bangabandhu Safari Park. The lions were born in the safari park while the lionesses were imported from South Africa.

Mukta’s male companion Moti was born in the Safari Park in 2015 and died in 2019 due to congenital deformities. Since then, Mukta has been without a mate.

A lioness reaches her reproductive age at around four years and a lion by the age of five. They can have four children. It takes 90 to 110 days for a female lion to give birth.

The couple Moti and Mukta never have had cubs as Moti did not reach his reproductive age.

Mukta is now showing behavioural changes for not having a mate, Zoo Officer Golam Azam said.

"Earlier she used to be cheerful but nowadays she stays aloof. She doesn't even roar. There's no joy for her."

Bangabandhu Safari Park has some African lions while Cox's Bazar Safari Park has a few Asiatic lions. None of the two has enough lions to spare one for bringing to Dhaka.

The authorities plan to get Mukta a mate from abroad.

"We’re trying to find a match (for Mukta) but are unable to do so due to the pandemic. Last fiscal year, we floated a tender to bring four lions from South Africa but it was halted. Now we can't take a new initiative," Golam said.

Koli, an Asiatic lioness aged 17 years, has been living without a companion for the past four years.

A rhinoceros couple were brought to Mirpur Zoo from Africa in 2010.

The male rhino died in 2013 leaving the female alone. The authorities later provided a sheep to relieve her loneliness.

"Those who supplied the rhino told us that she will feel better when kept with another animal. Then we provided a ewe," said Osman Gani, chief of Big Animal Division.

They were trying to provide the female rhino with a friend in consultation with the experts, said National Zoo Director Abdul Latif. "We gave her a ewe which she accepted well, but it died. We gave her another one. There was a gap of a year in between.”

“I arranged another ewe and quarantined it before presenting it to the rhino. But she isn’t accepting it. Now we keep the ewe away from her and put them together for an hour or two every week. We’re trying so that she accepts the ewe.”

Zoo officials are also trying to get her a mate of her own kind.

“None of the countries are cooperating because of the pandemic. Also, it will be hard to transport the animal even if they do. We need to float a tender again once the situation goes back to normal,” said the director.

The female rhinoceros has become quite 'edgy' for living without a mate for a long time.

“She would be happy if there was a companion for her. They (rhinos) don’t remain peaceful without a companion. Earlier she used to keep calm, but these days she loses her temper and attacks people. We try to control her.”

The African rhino has never delivered babies though it lived three years with a mate, Osman Gani said.

There could be different reasons for that including the rhinos living in enclosures, he believed.

“They have natural reproduction while living in the wild. They have their own choice and may not like all male members.”

The zoo population is dwindling due to a lack of reproduction opportunities, Gani said.

“At our zoo, we haven’t been able to adopt a scientific way to ensure a proper environment for the survival of our animals. We give more importance to the visitors who watch the animals for their enjoyment.”

The issue of animal reproduction will be in focus when the government takes initiative, he said.