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Asiatic lioness Lalana with her 3 cubs
Animal news
April 1, 2019

Meet the three rare Asiatic lion cubs

The Asian lion cubs Asha, Reena and Mette are growing very fast. In the meantime, they hardly drink breast milk anymore and eat with mother Lalana and father Aapel. As an enrichment, meat is regularly hung in the enclosure. A good exercise for the muscles, because the meat cannot be taken at once. This is extra challenging for the cubs. They play and wag the meat. Because the meat does not hang still, the cubs develop their hunting instinct. The three of them work well together to catch prey.

Asian lions are seriously threatened in the wild.

Update 20 Jan 2019: Lion Aapel has taken up his role as a father well. The playful cubs first studied him from a distance, but in the meantime his daughters are challenging him, playing with his tail, snapping into his mane or butt.

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Update 11 Jan. 2019: The cubs are females and were given the names Asha, Reena and Mette. The first two names were send in via a name contest. The third name was already given to a cub by Rotterdam Zoo. Asha means hope, Reena means resurrection. The names fit well by the fact that around 1900 fewer than 20 (1) Asiatic lions survived in the wild and to the present day around 600 individuals survive in the Gir Forest, a protected area in North Western India. Thanks to increased attention to nature conservation and to international breeding programs, such as those in Rotterdam Zoo. The names Asha and Reena are also Hindustani names that are frequently used in Gujarat (the area in India where this animal species occurs).

Update 4 Dec. 2018: The cubs played outdoors for the first time on 4 December. They were a little uncertain at first but very curious as they stepped into the fresh air. Once outside there was no holding them back; running and playing they discovered the whole of the area in double quick time.

Our three rare Asiatic lion cubs (born 21 August 2018) explored their inside enclosure for the first time on Thursday 22 November. For the first three months of their lives they stayed in the maternity den with their mother. The public was able to view them via our webcams but now on you can be seen live.

The cubs, closely guarded by their mother, were cautiously curious about their new environment. Through the windows they could watch the other three adult lions walking outside. Despite the glass separation, mother, Lalana, made it quite clear that the other adults should not get too close. This is Lalana’s first litter and she has adapted to her new role very well as can be seen from her protective behaviour.

This litter is very valuable, not only to the European breeding programme, but also to the conservation of this rare species. The father, Aapel, originated from Singapore zoo and has provided valuable genetic variation to the breeding programme. The Rotterdam lions are part of a reserve population to insure against the extinction of the species. Today wild Asiatic lions are only found in the Gir Forest, a protected area in North Western India where around 600 individuals survive to the present day. Around 1900 fewer than 20 Asiatic lions survived in the wild and all of today’s Asiatic lions descend from this small group.

Lalana met Aapel and the other two lionesses, Bente and Churchilla, last spring. Lalana was born in Planckendael (Belgium) in April 2010. She was transferred to Krakow, Poland. As she had not bred there, the studbook keeper moved her to Rotterdam in the hope that she would breed which has now happened. Lionesses usually give birth for the first time at the age of three or four, Lalana is over eight. In the near future the cubs will be introduced to the rest of the lion group, first they will meet male Aapel and then to the other two females.

Since 2015 the Asiatic lions have been housed in a renovated monumental building with a spacious green outside enclosure. This is the first litter to be born in the new lion exhibit.