VIDEO: Endangered lion cubs hand-reared by keepers at Bristol Zoo
KEEPERS at Bristol Zoo are hand-rearing twin lion cubs after their father died and their mother started to neglect them.
Twins Kamran and Ketan are Asiatic lions, a critically endangered species. Only 350 are left in the wild, at a single sanctuary in northern India.
They were born two months ago at the zoo in Clifton, which is part of an internationally coordinated conservation breeding programme to help save them from extinction.
But just 12 days after their birth the male cubs' father, Kamal, had to be put down due to what the zoo described as his "severe deteriorating health in old age". He was 18 years old.
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After his death the cubs' mother, Shiva, began "mis-mothering" them and zoo staff decided they had to be removed and hand reared.
A zoo spokeswoman said the decision to hand-rear cubs is only ever taken as a "last resort", as it is very demanding and challenging, but due to the cubs' value to the breeding programme and the future of their species, "every step had to be taken to ensure their survival".
Bristol Zoo Assistant Curator of Mammals Lynsey Bugg said: "The initial transition was a very important time for the cubs.
"We placed straw from their previous enclosure on the ground for familiarity, and gave each cub a cuddly toy to snuggle into to mimic mum.
"We also worked closely with the vet team to monitor their fluid intake while we got both cubs used to feeding from artificial teats."
A team of five keepers is now dedicated to hand-rearing the cubs, who were initially fed five times per day, with feeds lasting up to two hours during the cubs' early days.
"Alongside the challenge of feeding you need to be mindful of everything you do when hand-rearing," said Ms Bugg. "We need to prevent the cubs from imprinting on the keepers, so we make sure we treat them the way that their mum would when we handle them."
This involves picking the cubs up by the scruff of the neck and brushing them with a coarse brush, to mimic them being licked by their mother's coarse tongue, to ensure they go on to be a fully functioning social animals.
The zoo says that the cubs, now nine-and-a-half weeks old, are both are doing well, being weaned onto meat feeds and spending more time outside, but are not on show to visitors at present.
A video link to their home is shown on a screen at the front of the lion enclosure.
Ms Bugg said: "I'm very proud of my team. However, I'll deem the hand-rearing a success when our two young males are fully weaned and then go on to breed themselves. After all, protecting this incredible species is what we're all working towards."
For more pictures of Ketan and Kamran, visit our gallery.