SINGAPORE: The Singapore Zoo welcomed its first lion cub conceived through assisted reproduction on Oct 23 last year, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said on Tuesday (Jan 26).
The male cub is “Singapore’s very own Simba”, said WRS, referring to the iconic Disney animated film Lion King. Like in the movie, the cub was named Simba, which means “lion” in Swahili.
Simba was conceived after keepers and veterinarians collected semen from his father, Mufasa, a geriatric lion, using the process of electro-ejaculation. Mufasa was “not revived following the procedure”, said WRS, adding that “his deteriorating health was a key factor”.
The semen was then used to artificially inseminate Simba’s mother Kayla, described by WRS as “an ideal candidate” because she was a “proven breeder”.
WRS said that African lions in the wild have an average lifespan of 10 years to 14 years.
“Mufasa lived to the ripe old age of 20 but did not sire any cubs in his lifetime because of his aggressive behavior, which did not bring about successful pairings with any female.
“Yet his genes would be of high value in contributing to the genetic diversity and sustainability of African lion populations in zoological institutions,” said WRS, adding that African lions are listed as “vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
READ: ‘Can’t wait until it’s too late’: Wildlife Reserves Singapore ramps up breeding efforts for endangered species
Simba’s first month was eventful, WRS said, with the cub requiring supplementary nutrition via bottle feeding after keepers found that he had difficulty suckling.
“Observations suggested that Kayla was possibly suffering from inflammation of her mammary glands,” WRS said.
The intervention was only made after careful deliberation, said WRS.
“It was a delicate decision because animals can reject their young following temporary separation,” said Kughan Krishnan, the head keeper of carnivores at the Singapore Zoo.
“Thankfully, Kayla was accepting of the intervention which reflects the trust relationship built up over time between the lioness and her animal care team, that helped to achieve the positive outcome.”
Now three months old, Simba is making good progress.
“Simba is growing up to be a healthy and inquisitive little lion,” WRS said.
“He has started to enjoy small amounts of raw meat together with his milk and spends most of his day playing with enrichment devices prepared by his keepers to nurture his development. His current favourite is a rattan ball which he likes to tussle with.
“As his features start to develop, it is evident that Mufasa lives in him as they share the same beautiful eyes.”
Simba and Kayla are currently housed in an off-exhibit area at the zoo, a measure which will allow the lions to bond privately, and the cub will gradually be introduced to the rest of his family, which includes a half-sister and an aunt.