Cuba is known for its globally renowned music, unbeatable boxers, oldtimer cars, free healthcare… and its lions?! It has been reported lions in Cuba are now getting vasectomies due to a lion cub baby boom in the island’s zoos.
Due to the high birthrates in Cuban zoological parks, with more than 500 births since the late 1980s, authorities have decided to set up a program to control the fertility of lions in different zoos.
The Zoo garden in Havana and the National Zoo Park on the outskirts of the Cuban capital have 45 African cubs in total, 17 of them male, a number perceived as high.
Yamilet Rodriguez, biologist and director of the Animal Welfare department of Cuban Zoos, said the authorities have “tried everything”.
Initially, lionesses were implanted with contraceptives and hormones; the method failed as once the treatment ended, the lionesses were practically sterile.
Therefore, the strategy is now aimed at vasectomy of the males, but not castration. “This way, lions can still mount the lionesses, but they cannot impregnate them”, Rodriguez explained.
The decision of setting up methods to control births does not mean that the zoo parks are not doing planned breeding. The difference is the breeding is now done in a planned and controlled manner, in order to curb the cubs’ numbers and still preserve the dynamics of the groups.
Lionesses usually have two to three cubs on average, but in Cuba, the average was skewed six years ago when a lioness called Mariana gave birth to an unprecedented eight cubs.
Some of the lions living in Cuban zoos were donated by the Namibian government several years ago; the south African country donated 144 animals of 24 different species. The rest of the wildcats are descendants of the ones given to the late Fidel Castro as a present by Tanzanian officials in the 1960s.