Meet Simba, Singapore Zoo's first lion cub born via assisted reproduction

PHOTO: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Say hello to Simba, Singapore's first-ever African lion cub conceived by assisted reproduction. The adorable cub was born in October 2020, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said on Tuesday (Jan 26). 

Simba's the only offspring of a geriatric lion named Mufasa, whose semen was collected through electro-ejaculation by veterinary and animal care teams at Singapore Zoo's Wildlife Health and Research Centre. 

The semen was then used to artificially inseminate a lioness, Kayla, who was said to be "an ideal candidate for the assisted pregnancy as she was a proven breeder". 

However, Mufasa did not live to meet the cub.

The aged lion died after the semen collection, and was not revived due to his "deteriorating health". 

According to WRS, African lions live for about 10-14 years on average. Mufasa lived to age 20 but was unable to sire any cubs in his lifetime due to his aggressive nature. 

WRS said that this process would preserve the genes and bloodline of Mufasa, adding that "his genes would be of high value in contributing to the genetic diversity and sustainability of African lion populations in zoological institutions." 

The African lion species is listed as 'vulnerable' under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.  

PHOTO: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

In the first month, Simba seemed to be developing well under Kayla's care. But zookeepers soon found the cub to be lethargic and struggling with suckling. 

A decision was made to supplement Simba's nutrition with bottle feeding. "Observations suggested that Kayla was possibly suffering from inflammation of her mammary glands," WRS said.

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

"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," he added. 

Three months have passed since and Simba appears to be growing up well.

The cub has started to transition to solid foods by having small amounts of raw meat together with his milk. He spends most of his day playing with his favourite rattan ball and "perfecting his roar". 

To strengthen their bond privately, mother and son are housed in an off-exhibit area at the zoo. Simba will then slowly be introduced to the rest of his family. 

annatan@asiaone.com