Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 18:13 UK

Lion cubs make first appearance

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News


Rare lion cubs unveiled at zoo

A pair of rare Asian lion cubs have made their first public appearance at London Zoo.

The 10-week-olds took their first steps in their new enclosure under the watchful eye of their mother Abi, who was also born at the zoo.

The species (Panthera leo persica) is listed as Endangered, with fewer than an estimated 350 animals remaining in the wild in North-West India.

It is the first time in a decade that Asian lions have been born at the zoo.

The cubs' father, Lucifer - whose name was inspired by his stud-book number (666) - will be reintroduced to the enclosure on Friday.

Asian lion Abi with her two cubs at London Zoo (Getty Images)
Length: male 1.7-2.5m; female 1.4-1.75m
Weight: male 150-250kg; female 120-180kg
Gestation period: 3.5 months
Lifespan: 16-18 years in the wild; about 24 years in captivity
Once widespread across SW Asia, now restricted to Gir Forest, India
Listed as endangered, about 350 individuals remain in the wild
(Source: IUCN/Asiatic Lion Information Centre)

"We are incredibly proud," David Field, zoological director for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) told BBC News.

"Lucifer came to join us a few years ago, but he was quite a young lad... so we had to wait for him to mature.

"But the results today are fantastic. There are about 350 Asian lion left in the wild, which may not seem too bad but they are only found in a tiny piece of forest in India."

Mr Field added that the lions' habitat was surrounded by expanding human settlements, which made captive breeding essential for the long-term survival of the species.

Unlike African lions, Asian lions are solitary mammals and only come together in order to mate.

In the wild, the main threats facing the lions are habitat loss and hunting.

Although their main prey is wild deer, there have been reports of them attacking livestock, which brings them into direct conflict with villagers.

In the wild, the main threats facing the lions are habitat loss and hunting.

The new cubs are the latest success for the European Breeding Programme for lions, of which ZSL is a member.

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