BLOG: IN FOCUS – Family pride
SOMETIMES this job has its perks, as I was reminded this week when I was invited behind the scenes at Bristol Zoo to meet Kamran and Ketan – the two new lion cubs being hand-reared by keepers out of sight of visitors.
There was a slight groundhog day to feel to the job, because back in April 2011 I had visited the zoo to meet Kalyana and Jayendra, the cubs' older brother and sister.
Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals, was able to tell me about the older cubs' progress – not so much cubs now, with the female, now at Helsinki Zoo, having already bred, while the male is enjoying a new life at Edinburgh Zoo.
The Asiatic lions are a criticially endangered species, with only 400 wild Asiatic lions in the wild, in an area of India's Gir Forest roughly the size of the New Forest.
Which would explain why such careful precautions are taken with the captive breeding population of just 100 individuals. More than 50 per cent of the population in European zoos are female, so a pair of young males like Kamran and Ketan will be vital to the breeding programme.
But all that seemed to be under threat when their father Kamal, the elderly, and increasingly frail patriarch finally had to be euthanased in November at the age of 18 – just 12 days after the birth of Kamran and Ketan.
Their mother Shiva almost immediately stopped caring for the tiny lion cubs – not, as it's tempting to believe, through sheer grief, but rather through a pragmatic natural instinct.
In the wild, the death of the dominant male inevitably means a new male lion will enter the pride to take charge, and sadly the first thing they do in their new role as top cat, is to systematically kill all the cubs.
As Lynsey explained to me – brutal though it may sound – it makes perfect evolutionary sense, because without the cubs the females will once again become physically receptive to becoming pregnant – allowing the incoming male to start creating the next generation of his own genes straightaway.
Which explains why, just 48 hours after Kamal's death, keepers had to remove the cubs from their mother, and have been hand-rearing them in secret behind the scenes at the zoo ever since.
They have grown five-fold in the past 12 weeks, and have already developed a full set of teeth – allowing them to be rapidly weaned on to horse meat and chicken.
The big challenge now will be for the keepers to be able to successfully reintroduce them to their mother's enclosure in the next few weeks.
But it's not just lions that have complex families. Earlier this week I met Ugandan pop star David Stride, in the unlikely setting of a Hartcliffe high rise flat.
After 30 years of searching, the 42-year-old had finally found the British half of his family.
His father was a scientist from Bristol – Dr George Stride, who first travelled to the central African nation in the late 1960s to work at a research station studying the use of pesticides on African farms.
He dreamed of settling in Uganda, buying a piece of land, and setting up a large mixed-use farm. George fell in love with Margaret, David's Ugandan mother, and the pair were married according to ancient local clan customs.
David was born in 1970, but the following year dictator Idi Amin came to power – his swift arrival put all Europeans living in the country under threat, and David's happy family was broken apart.
His father had to flee the country – he took another job in Samoa – and his mother was suspected of spying for the British, so was forced to flee into Tanzania, leaving David to be brought up by my grandmother.
After decades of search to find his father, sadly when he finally tracked down his Bristol link, he discovered he had died 20 years ago.
But during his current visit to the city, David has been able to get to know Shona, the long-lost niece he never knew he had.
It was really quite a privilege to be there, as the family enjoyed being reunited after so many years, and as David placed the final piece in the jigsaw of his roots.
It was just another one of those glorious perks of the job.
Feature writer David Clensy writes The Post's daily Focus features