SINGAPORE - A lion cub has for the first time in the history of the Singapore Zoo been conceived through assisted reproduction.
The birth of the cub - named Simba - last October preserves its bloodline at the zoo, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said on Tuesday (Jan 26).
But, unlike his fictional equivalent in the movie Lion King, Simba will never meet his namesake father in the zoo, Mufasa, which died 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. The decision to euthanise Mufasa was not an easy one, and zookeepers and veterinarians took some time to decide.
African lions in the wild usually live between 10 and 14 years.
While Mufasa lived to a ripe old age, it did not sire any cubs because of his "aggressive behaviour", which did not bring about successful pairings with any female, said WRS.
It added that Simba's birth was the product of the fourth and only successful assisted reproduction attempt involving Mufasa, whose genes are extremely valuable to the genetic diversity and sustainability of African lions in zoological institutions.
The species is listed as vulnerable under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
The birth was not the only challenge for the animal care team and the cub.
In his first month, the cub grew well under the care of his mother. But keepers soon found Simba to be lethargic and having difficulty in suckling.
After careful deliberation, they decided to supplement his nutrition with bottle feeding as Kayla, his 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 relationship built up over time between the lioness and the animal care team.
Kayla exhibits excellent maternal instincts by being protective of her little one and sharing her feed with the cub, said WRS.
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, tussling with his favourite toy, a rattan ball.
Kayla and Simba are currently housed in an off-exhibit area to allow them to further strengthen their bond, away from the glare of visitors.
The Singapore Zoo now has two male lions - Timba, an adult, and Simba.