Zoo's pride in hand-rearing lion cub

HER mother and father preferred playing to parenthood, so it fell to zoo staff to hand-rear lion cub Zara.

Laurence Cawley

HER mother and father preferred playing to parenthood, so it fell to zoo staff to hand-rear lion cub Zara.

At first it appeared that Zara's parents, Safina, three, and Zuri, two, were getting on with the job of rearing their offspring, which was born at Linton Zoo in May.

But after two days, zoo staff noticed Safina and Zuri - whose lion ages are roughly equivalent to human teenage years - had left the cub on its own and were out playing in the grounds of the zoo.

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Concern for Zara began to grow and a decision was made to hand-rear the cub, which will eventually be transferred to Africa.

Zoo director Kim Simmons said: “It quite often happens with lions. First-time mothers, especially if they are quite young, just don't know what to do with their young.

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“Both Safina and Zuri are young. At first Zuri appeared to acting very mature, as though he understood that he was now a father. But he quickly decided he'd rather go and play.

“Safina gave it a good go for a brief while and she suckled her cub. But then she completely abandoned the cub and we found there was no way it was going to get warm so we decided we would bottle feed her.

“Strangely enough Safina's mother did exactly the same thing to her and her mother went on to become an excellent parent - she just needed a little more age behind her.

“Lions live in prides so sometimes if this kind of thing happens there are other mothers in the pride who will foster them.”

After six weeks of being hand-reared by humans, Zara is making good progress. Her initial weight was 2lb 4oz. She now weighs nearly 10lb.

It is hoped she will eventually be transferred to a conservation education centre in Uganda.

Safina and Zuri are expecting another litter of cubs in October and Ms Simmons believes their brief experience with Zara should help them both prove more successful parents second time around.

Zara's progress is being followed by a film crew from Channel 5, and a documentary about her will be screened later this year.

All lions born at Linton Zoo will be moved to the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre, based in Entebbe in Uganda, as part of a project organised with West Midlands Safari Park and Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire.

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