11 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Lioness Litters Eight Cubs

A LIONESS on birth control pills has given birth to a record eight cubs in one litter at the Lion and Cheetah Park on the outskirts of Harare, a rare spectacle that has left conservationists baffled. Wildlife doctors are now wondering if the contraceptive administered by the park's general manager, Mr Anthony Newall backfired.

The world over, lionesses are known to give birth to two cubs at a time and rarely, four. On November 4 2012, the lioness named Pasha, gave birth to eight cubs at the wildlife sanctuary and prime tourist resort, frequented by local and foreign tourists.

Yesterday, National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority head of scientific services Dr Hillary Madzikanda, confirmed the birth, describing it as a world record.

"This has never happened. It has never happened in the history of lions, the world over. It is actually a world record," he said.

"Normally, you get two cubs per litter and getting four is even very lucky. This one is a record. It is an achievement for this lioness.

"Surprisingly, the lioness was on a contraceptive pill. But this is really a world record."

A visit to the sanctuary yesterday afternoon saw the cubs that have been weaned off for their safety, being fed on supplementary milk through a bottle.

They all looked healthy and strong.

"We are suckling them from the bottle each time they wake up from sleep," said a senior worker.

"They still need a lot of milk and warmth and we are keeping an eye on them every minute.

"I have worked here for years, but I have never seen this. I think this is the lioness' second birth.

"The first birth it had two cubs only and it was put on family planning pills like other lionesses here as a method of controlling breeding. How it got the eight cubs is still a mystery to everybody."

Mr Newall, referred all questions to the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Lionesses go to marshes or mountains, or caves to give birth and always give birth while standing.

The cubs are born blind, like other felines and start seeing a few weeks later.

A lioness gives birth two or three times a year and it is not rare for wildlife sanctuaries to administer contraceptive pills or injections as a birth control method.

In the wild, lion cubs are born in isolation from the pride and there are usually two to four cubs in a litter.

Their eyes are open, but they cannot see well and are completely dependent on their mothers.

After a few weeks, the cubs are introduced to the pride.

Here, they spend about a year learning skills and strengthening social bonds through play. Cubs are generally tolerated by the whole pride.

In fact, they are cared for by all females rather then just their own mothers.

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