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Lion Moms Raise Litters Together at Zoo Basel

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Zoo Basel in Switzerland is celebrating the arrival of not just one—but two—litters of Lion cubs! The four male cubs were born on November 9th and 13th. The proud mothers are Okoa and Uma, who both gave birth to their young in the same whelping box and are caring for the two litters together. It is still unclear which cubs came from which mother, but a DNA test will shed some light on the matter. The baby Lions’ father is Mbali, who can still be found lying in the company of the entire family. 

The animal keepers had suspected for some time that the two Lionesses were pregnant.  However, since both mothers were already on the older side at eleven years old, they were unsure if any young would actually be born. Father Mbali was permitted to remain with the females throughout. The mothers even allowed him to lie with them in the narrow whelping box, where he was forced to squeeze himself against the edge.

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On December 16, the four baby Lions received their first visit from the zoo veterinarian. He fitted them each with a small chip, administered de-worming medication and performed a health check. All four are healthy and well-nourished. The baby Lions are still spending most of their time in the warm indoor stall. With a bit of luck, over the next few days visitors will be able to observe their first forays into the outdoor enclosure. For now, visitors can peek through a window to see into the whelping box in the Lion enclosure.

Mbali, Okoa and Uma come from Pilanesberg and Madikwe, nature reserves in north-western South Africa which house lions from Namibia. As the lions there are reproducing well, some animals could be given away to increase the genetic diversity in zoos. Thanks to their semi-wild origins, these Lion cubs are expected to be of genetic interest to the zoo community.

In 2012, the dramatic decline in the Lion population over recent years prompted the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) to agree to the establishment of a European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for Lions from sub-Saharan Africa. Previously, such a program only existed for Asian Lions. In the future, the breeding program will manage the entire European zoo Lion population and ensure the highest possible level of genetic diversity.

See and learn more after the fold.

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According to Zoo Basel, the African Lion population has declined by 45 percent over the last ten years. In West Africa this figure is more like 90 percent. Loss of habitat, conflict with humans, trophy hunting and diseases spread by humans via domestic and working animals have had such a serious effect on the king of the savannah that the creatures can now only be found in a few last, generally isolated areas. 

Zoo Basel is donating 25,000 Swiss francs in 2014 to support the Predator Compensation Fund from the Big Life Foundation (BLF). This is helping the Maasai – who have been living in the Amboseli/Tsavo ecosystem for hundreds of years – by providing them with compensation if their cattle have been attacked by Lions or other predators. In addition, the BLF is supporting young Maasai warriors with the Maasai Olympics, an alternative to the traditional Lion hunting where young Maasai warriors prove their bravery with a ritual Lion hunt. Instead of hunting Lions, the young men can now demonstrate their endurance and skill at the Maasai Olympics.