On November 9, 2011, two healthy male Asiatic Lion cubs named Kamran and Ketan were born to mom Shiva at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Now at nine and a half weeks, both cubs are doing well and beginning to reveal their individual personalities. They’re spending more time outside in an off-show enclosure, though guests can now view them at play on a monitor outside the exhibit.
But they have a story. Unfortunately, only 12 days after they were born, their eight-year-old father Kamal was put to sleep due to severely deteriorating health. Following his death, Shiva began to have difficulties mothering, which forced staff to make the rare decision to intervene and remove the two-week-old cubs for hand-rearing.
Asiatic Lions are classified as Critically Endangered and are part of an internationally coordinated conservation breeding program managed by Twycross Zoo. There are currently only a few hundred Asiatic Lions left in the wild, so every step had to be taken to ensure these cubs survive and thrive. Hand-rearing is a very demanding and challenging process, and is considered a last resort. But just as their father played a role in the conservation breeding program, both cubs are to play a role in the future of the breeding program.
"The initial transition was a very important time for the cubs,’ says Lynsey Bugg, Assistant Curator of Mammals. "We placed straw from their previous enclosure on the ground for familiarity, and gave each cub a cuddly toy to snuggle with to mimic mum. We also worked closely with the Vet Team to monitor their fluid intake while we got both cubs used to feeding from artificial teats."
A team of five keepers are dedicated to care for the cubs, who were initially fed five times over a 24 hour period. While the cubs got used to the new feeding regimine, keepers could spend up to two hours doing each feed. Both cubs have their weight, temperature and respiratory rate checked daily, and keepers monitor their activity level to ensure they’re progressing well.
"Alongside the challenge of feeding when hand-rearing, we need to prevent the cubs from imprinting on the keepers, so we make sure we treat them the way that their mum would when we handle them," continues Lynsey. This involves picking them up by the scruff of the neck and brushing them with a coarse brush -- which replicates them being licked by their mother’s coarse tongue -- all to ensure they go on to be a fully functioning social animal.
"I’m very proud of my team," says Lynsey. "However, I’ll deem the hand-rearing a success when our two young males are fully weaned and then go on to breed themselves. After all, protecting this incredible species is what we’re all working toward."
Watch this video of the two nursing and being quite curious about the camera!