Our little lions have turned one year old!

In 2013 a good looking young Asiatic lion named Max has arrived to Moscow zoo from Zurich. After a year a young lioness Lina, his bride-to-be, has arrived from Rotterdam. When they grew up, we placed them together, and in the winter of 2015 they had offsprings. This was the first time Asiatic lion cubs were born in Moscow zoo — we had this species before, but they have never bred. The cubs were born a year ago, on 21 of February. To celebrate this, we’ve asked Svetlana Svyatskaya, head zoologist of Moscow zoo Mammals department, to tell us about how it happened. Here’s what she told us:

«We put a special „birth box“ in Lina’s enclosure: it had borders (so that cubs wouldn’t get out) and soft oat straw as a substrate. The first cub was born at 7 AM. Everything has happened pretty quickly, the new mom licked her baby, and soon he was already sucking her milk. The second baby was born an hour and a half later. Baby male was named Roksak („protector“ in Hindi), and baby female — Umida („hope“ in Hindi).

Lion cubs are born blind. Usually they weigh about 2 kg and are about 30 cm long. Interestingly, their fir is spotted at birth, and only after a while it becomes one-coloured, like their parents'.

Of course, it was quite a nervous time for all of us here at Animals Island. Everyone was worried, because it was Lina’s first parturition, and no one knew how it will go, and how she will treat her babies (young mothers often refuse to feed their babies). Lions' enclosure was covered with fiberboards with little holes, so that zoologists could check what was going on inside. If you looked through one of those holes, you could meet an angry lion’s gaze and hear her roar. Luckily, we had a camera installed in birthing box, so our zoologists could watch the whole process without disturbing the animals.

For about a week after Lina haven’t eaten — she was just drinking water. The meat was put in an adjacent enclosure, but at first she didn’t even notice it. We walked around on tiptoes and tried not to approach the babies until it was absolutely necessary. It was crucial to let Lina know: there are no threats for her family, everyone is safe here. Soon we were sure that Lina is a devoted and caring mother: she contsantly saw that her cubs ate enough, washed and warmed them carefully. Now the cubs eat meat, and Lina always waits until they have full bellies before getting to food herself.

Two weeks after giving birth Lina has relaxed a bit and started leaving the cubs for a short time. That’s when we finally had the opportunity to measure and weigh babies. We had to take a lot of precautions so that she wouldn’t smell humans: of course, no perfume was allowed, and all visitors had to rub themselves off with the lions bedding. The whole process took just a few minutes, but after that the female has bursted into the room and jumped at her cubs frantically. After that she didn’t leave them at all for the next couple of days.

Six weeks later Lina started bringing meat to her cubs, and soon after that they went outside for the first time in their lives. It was April, and we made special flooring for their safety. Their enclosure was in the middle of reconstruction at the time — there were a lot of people and strange noises. Luckily, Lina and her cubs didn’t pay attention. Everything was new and strange for the little ones, they were contsantly scared and amazed at the same time: so many space, so many rocks, trees, and birds around! For the first two days they were crawling around, but didn’t want to go home. Lina turned out to be quite a nervous mom — she tried to get the cubs back to the box, but they always broke loose, especially Umida (Roksak is a shy and gentle one). When the cubs were given new toys, mother always took them first, studied, „killed“ them, and only then gave to the babies. When they were outside, she watched them like a hawk, constantly teaching what to do and how to hunt passing birds. At first she didn’t let them near the pit, until one of cubs slided downwards, and the second one followed. Lina also went down, walked around with them, and then went to the stairs, looking back to see if they were following her. She showed them how to walk up the stairs, and they mastered it instantly.

In nature, females and cubs return to their groups when cubs turn 10 weeks. After that, they get acquainted with their dad who usually is quite amicable. Here we’ve tried to establish a contact between Max and his children, but unfortunately, it didn’t come out. Lina has never liked Max in the first place, and now she became even more intolerant. She never lets him near the cubs and even attacks him sometimes. Maybe, we’ll try to unite them in future.

Right now Lina and her children are very happy. The cubs are never bored, they’re contsantly playing with each other and with their mother, and she is just glad to be back to group. The family often visits the open enclosure — they go there even if temperature falls to -20 °C. If animals are sated, healthy, and have the possibility to go inside any time they want, they don’t mind the cold. Little ones have grown, now they weigh about 70 kg each. Roksak is way bigger, but Umida is still more active, independent, and curious. However, they’re not adults yet: usually young males don’t leave their pride until 3 or even 4 years old, and females often stay in their parents' pride for their whole life. We hope that our lovely three-lions family will bring a lot of joy to our guests!»