2 September 2017
By Bryan T. Smyth
Fota Wildlife Park have announced that one of their Asian lionesses has given birth to her first litter of cubs in what is also a first for Fota Wildlife Park. The three as yet unsexed Asian lion cubs, were born on the 13th August to first time parents, mother Gira and father Shanto after a gestation of about 112 days. Asian lions are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as there are only 500 individuals remaining in the wild.
The pride of Asian lions at Fota Wildlife Park features the five-year-old male Shanto who came from Zoo de Santillana in Spain and two sisters Gira and Gita, both three, who came from Helsinki Zoo in Finland to the recently opened Asian Sanctuary. Fota Wildlife Park are experiencing something of a “cub-boom” at the moment as they also recently announced the birth of a Sumatran tiger cub and a litter of four cheetah cubs.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park said “We are absolutely thrilled that Gira successfully delivered her first litter of cubs here at Fota as the pride of lions are relatively new and have only been in situ for just over a year in their specialised habitat. It’s our first participation in the international breeding programme for Asian lions and are delighted to see this success in the arrival of the cubs.” He continued “There are only approximately 200 Asian lions in Wildlife Parks and Zoos and to be able to contribute to a successful captive breeding programme worldwide is an essential safeguard against a severe decline to the wild population, which may be vulnerable to disease or other factors such as natural disaster – and the birth of the cubs is a great way of creating awareness for these conservation issues”.
Lead ranger, Kelly Lambe commented on the births by saying “The cubs are still really new and Gira the mum seems to be very comfortable with them, they are fulltime job for her as they require feeding every three to four hours but she is doing great as a first-time mother. Their eyes are only open a few days but they are starting to move about and explore and have already taken their first steps but as babies they do spend a lot of time sleeping. As she is feeding three hungry mouths we’ve increased her feed by one-and-a-half kilos a day.”
The Asian lion population has recovered from the brink of extinction to several hundred individuals. Today they only live in the Gir Forest, India, which remains the stronghold for this species apart from a few prides living outside this protected area. The lions live closely alongside humans in their last remaining natural habitat, including the Maldhari community, who also live within the Gir Forest. Compared to their African cousins, Asian lions have shaggier coats, with a longer tassel on the end of the tail and longer tufts of hair on the elbows. The most noticeable physical characteristic found in all Asian lions, but rarely in African lions, is a longitudinal fold of skin running along their belly.