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Young lions draw 10,000 to zoo

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Crowds flock to the Emperor Valley Zoo, Port-of-Spain, on Sunday to see the three new lions which arrived on Friday. The other main attraction was the nearly 18-foot-long anaconda caught several weeks ago in Caroni. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Three young lions which arrived at the Emperor Valley Zoo last week have attracted more than 10,000 visitors. 


The traffic jam caused by the rush to see the lions prompted the police to ask zoo officials to close their gates temporarily on Sunday. 


President of the Zoological Society Gupte Lutchmedial, in a phone interview yesterday, said: “We almost had to close the zoo due to the traffic. The police came yesterday (Sunday) and asked if we could close the zoo.”


A long line of traffic tailed back from the entrance to the zoo, and cars were parked for hundreds of yards around the Savannah and up Chancellor Hill. 


Lutchmedial said when he refused, the police then asked him to close the car park. He referred the police to the security firm that runs the car park. 


“The park was full but people kept waiting to see if people were leaving so they could get a park,” he added.


He said people visited the zoo to see the two-and-a-half-year-old brothers—Kovu, Mufasa and Scar—as well as the 18-foot, 200-pound anaconda, Sarp.


But Lutchmedial said while there were long lines to see the snakes, including Sarp, the lions, who were in quarantine, drew the bigger crowd. 


He said the younger visitors were focused on the lions, perhaps because they have character names from Disney’s animated movie, The Lion King.


The young lions made the trek from the Abilene Zoo in Texas, USA, to Trinidad over three days and joined 16-year-old Simba as part of the zoo’s lion exhibit last Friday. 


Simba, who was the lone lion at the zoo, is the great-grandson of the first two lions that came to the zoo in the early 70s. 


On Friday, Nirmal  Biptah, curator of the zoo, said since then the zoo always had a lion in residence.


Lutchmedial said from his observations older people wanted to see the anaconda, despite being paranoid about snakes. 


He said Sarp’s presence would help the zoo to educate people about how to accept and treat snakes.

Lutchmedial said the snake’s DNA has been sent for testing to determine its origins, whether it came from Venezuela or Guyana or was Trinidad-born.


Former head zookeeper John Seyjagat, who has been the curator of the Australian exhibits at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, for the past ten years, accompanied Kovu, Mufasa and Scar on their way to their new home.


He is also one of the experts at the zoo examining Sarp, along with Venezuelan herpetologist Jesus Rivas.


Seyjagat added: “The anaconda is in perfect condition. 


“It is in good health, good skin condition, well fed. It is a very good specimen. It is one of the largest anacondas in captivity in the world.”


As to the future plans for the two biggest attractions to the zoo in recent times, Lutchmedial said on Friday: 


“We hope to get three females sometime in June. The permitting arrangements are being done now and we will select the best male out of the four to mate.”


Lutchmedial said the zoo had plans to supply South American zoos with lion cubs in the future.


He said the brothers were from a good bloodline and as fifth-generation lions bred in captivity, they have adapted well to their new environment since their arrival.


However, there are plans, yet to be confirmed, to release Sarp back into her natural habitat.


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