Bristol Zoo is celebrating the arrival of two critically-endangered Asiatic lion cubs. The zoo's lioness Shiva gave birth to Kamran and Ketan in November but the very rare animals have been kept under wraps until now.
Today ITV News has been given an exclusive glimpse at the zoo's very special new additions.
Asiatic Lions are critically endangered in the wild – with only about 300 remaining in the Gir Forest Sanctuary in Northern India. They were once widespread throughout Northern India and Pakistan, but hunting and habitat destruction has reduced their numbers drastically.
Just 12 days after the birth of the cubs, their father - 18-year-old Kamal - was put to sleep due to his deteriorating health in old age. Following his death, mum Shiva began mis-mothering her babies, forcing animal and veterinary staff to make the rare decision to intervene and remove the two week old cubs for hand-rearing.
As the cubs are still very young, they are off show to zoo guests, but can usually be seen via a video link, shown on a screen at the front of the lion enclosure.
Bristol Zoo says Kamal, was an "important male for the conservation breeding programme", which means both lion cubs are also an important part of the breed's future.
ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports:
– Assistant Curator of Mammals Lynsey Bugg
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 are dedicated to hand-rearing the cubs. Each day the cubs have their weight, temperature and respiratory rate checked. The keepers monitor their level of activity to ensure they're progressing well and have watched, and felt, both cubs cut their teeth.