Once known for the Lion Safari, the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh (HP) will be house to a pair of Royal Bengal Tigers from Delhi, for the first time.

In exchange, the wildlife wing of the state government will send three leopards, which are found in abundance in the jungles in HP, to the Delhi zoo. There are no lions left in the Renuka Wildlife sanctuary in Sirmour district as the last one, named Nishu, died two years ago.

“We are shortly getting a male and a female, Yellow and White, Royal Bengal Tigers from Delhi zoo. We have talked to the Delhi zoo authorities and Central Zoo Authority (CZA). We have now sought approval of the CZA for design of enclosures of tigers,” said S K Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, HP.

Sharma said that the enclosures of tigers have a deep foundation. “Once the CZA team visits and approves the design, we will construct them and get the tigers,” he said.

The tigers would be kept for captive display in the zoo in the sanctuary. The wildlife wing’s plan on tiger breeding would, however, depend on the pair that is provided to the state.

As soon as the tigers arrive, three leopards would be transported to the Delhi zoo from the animal rescue centre in Shimla, which has 12 leopards at the moment. The leopards, who stray into the human habitations, are caged in the rescue centre.

Sources in the wildlife wing said that although it is for the first time that the tigers would be kept in HP in captivity, there is some evidence from the past to suggest that Himachal can provide a natural habitat to the tigers.

Sources said that few years ago, a tiger had reportedly strayed near Renuka wild life sanctuary from adjoining Raja Ji National Park and another one was sighted near Simbalwara wild life sanctuary in Sirmaur.

The Renuka zoo, the first in HP, was established in 1957. A pair of Asiatic lions was brought to the Renuka zoo from Uttar Pradesh in 1974. The first lion was nicknamed as Raja, while the lioness was named as Rani. Over the years, the lions grew in numbers and at one time, to more than two dozen.

But they faced inbreeding problems, following which the breeding of lions was banned by the CZA in Renuka zoo.

Spread across 4.028 square kilometres, the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary houses a zoo, which has some leopards, 20 barking deers, 40 Sambars, 20 Indian ducks and three Black Bears and Cheetal.