First lion cub born at S'pore Zoo with assisted reproduction

Simba, whose birth in October preserves his father's bloodline at the zoo, is doing well

The birth of Simba was the result of the final session to collect semen from a 20-year-old lion, Mufasa, which died at the zoo after his semen was collected. The cub, now three months old, is currently housed in an off-exhibit area with his mother, K
The birth of Simba was the result of the final session to collect semen from a 20-year-old lion, Mufasa, which died at the zoo after his semen was collected. The cub, now three months old, is currently housed in an off-exhibit area with his mother, Kayla. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

A lion cub has for the first time in the history of the Singapore Zoo been born after being conceived through assisted reproduction.

The birth of Simba last October preserves his father's bloodline at the zoo, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said yesterday.

But unlike his fictional equivalent in the movie, The Lion King, Simba will never meet his father, Mufasa, which died at the zoo after his semen was collected.

The 20-year-old lion's deteriorating health, which included muscle atrophy, was a key factor to ending his life, said WRS. He was euthanised on July 10, 2020.

African lions in the wild usually live between 10 and 14 years.

While Mufasa lived to a ripe old age, he did not sire any cubs because of his "aggressive behaviour", which did not lead to successful pairings with any female, said WRS. Simba's birth was the product of the final session to collect Mufasa's semen, and the only successful assisted reproduction attempt involving the lion, whose genes are extremely valuable to the genetic diversity and sustainability of African lions in zoological institutions.

In his first month, the cub grew well under the care of his mother. But keepers soon found that Simba was lethargic and having difficulty in suckling. After careful deliberation, they decided to supplement his nutrition with bottle feeding as Kayla, the mother, seemed to have inflamed mammary glands.

The head keeper of carnivores at WRS, Mr Kughan Krishnan, said: "It was a delicate decision because animals can reject their young following temporary separation."

Fortunately, this did not happen as Kayla accepted the intervention, something Mr Krishnan said reflected the trust built up over time between the lioness and the animal care team.

Three months on, Simba is growing up to be an inquisitive little lion with eyes like Mufasa's. He spends most of the day playing with his favourite toy, a rattan ball.

Kayla and Simba are currently housed in an off-exhibit area to allow them to strengthen their bond. Before Simba, the Singapore Zoo last saw the birth of Shani, Kayla's female lion cub, four years ago.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'First lion cub born at S'pore Zoo with assisted reproduction'. Subscribe