This could well be Tripura’s best kept secret, certainly for 2018. The Sepahijala Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary has announced the arrival of three new big cats. But the cubs were actually born this June to adult lions Dushmanta and Chinmoyee. The two males and one female were, however, kept under close observation for almost half a year before being shown to the world.
Zoo director Naresh Jamatia says the zoo has got lion cubs after a gap of over three years when two male cubs were born in 2015. “The new cubs were separated from their mother after birth and are being kept in intensive care in a separate enclosure,” says the director.
With this the zoo now has eight big cats, all lions, including five adults. Sepahijala has lost its last Royal Bengal Tiger five months back. Dipu had been suffering from illness for long.
The cubs were seen running into their enclosures as soon as a keeper approached with two bucketloads of meat. “These are little cubs. We keep them out of human sight. They might get afraid and become sick,” says their keeper.
Zoo biologist Chiranjib Debnath says they usually exchange animals with other zoos to prevent genetic diseases from repeated breeding within the same family. “As many as 39 clouded leopards were bred here and sent to Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and other states. We are now hoping to get some tigers,” he says.
In fact, the sanctuary carries the coveted ‘Clouded Leopard National Park’ tag since 2011 thanks to its successful breeding of the near-extinct animal. This is the only place where the endangered clouded leopard is bred and conserved — 39 of these leopards has been bred here in the last seven years.
If the legends are to be believed, Sepahijala gets its name from a sepoy camp of a Tripura king along the marshy area in the present sanctuary — ‘Jala’ in Bengali means marshy land. Rich in flora and fauna, Sepahijala Bio-Complex was set up in 1972 with a small Botanical Garden and Deer Park. The Deer Park gradually became a full-fledged zoo and the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary was set up in February 1987.
Zoo curator Vannunsanga Darlong says the sanctuary now has 543 animals including ten clouded leopards, the eight lions and 14 species of birds.
Sepahijala also houses 23 spectacled monkeys, one of the most endangered species of primates and Tripura’s state animal.
Curation Assistant Pintu Debbarma says there is usually a huge queue of visitors all around the year. However, the numbers go up during winters, he adds.
Tripura has three other sanctuaries, Trishna in South Tripura, Rowa in North Tripura and Gomati wildlife sanctuary in Gomati district. Among these, Trishna was declared as a bison reserve.