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Sunday, 5 November, 2000, 14:20 GMT
'Extinct' lions surface in Siberia
Lions Russian TV
Born in captivity, the cubs retain their natural aggression
Two lion cubs are to travel from Siberia to South Africa after being recognised as belonging to a sub-species long thought extinct.

"Extinct" for 135 years
The last Cape lion in Cape Province was killed in 1858
The last of the species was supposed to have been shot in Natal in 1865
The Cape lion was supposed to have been killed off in the mid-1800s.

But Russian TV says three-month-old cubs in Novosibirsk zoo are descended from the breed. Zoo-keepers say the lions thrive in Siberia despite temperatures as low as -40C in winter. The cubs' parents, named Simon and Rita, had two litters this year.

Lion Russian TV
The Cape lion had a black mane with a tawny fringe around the face
South African zoo director John Spence had been searching for surviving Cape lions, and recognised the cubs from photographs. He is to take the two cubs to his own zoo in an attempt to restore the breed in South Africa.

The Cape lions were bigger in the body than other lions, and had a thick black mane which sometimes reached the middle of their back. They also had distinctive black tips to their ears.

It is not known how the lions arrived in Siberia, but the family in Novosibirsk is supposed to be descended from a lion left behind by a circus many years ago.

Lion Russian TV
They have the distinctive black ear tips of Cape lions
This is not the first time that supposedly extinct breeds of lion have apparently been found surviving in small populations.

Former Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia's personal troupe of lions, which survived for many years in a zoo in Addis Ababa, were thought to be descended from Barbary lions, also long believed to have been wiped out.

Zoo staff in Novosibirsk say they will be sorry to part with the two cubs - but they are happy that they are "going home".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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