Hand Rearing Lion Cubs and Other Carnivores
There they are, the cute fluffy little lion, tiger or whatever cubs in the newspaper photo. That should bring some visitors in to the zoo, sanctuary, rescue centre or whatever you like to call it. We have all seen them. Such photographs appear frequently enough and are rarely questioned.
If they are there in the photograph with their mother as nature intended then fair enough. If not then the accompanying text usually goes something like this.
"They had to be hand reared because............."
...they were abandoned
...they were her first litter
...she did not know what to do
...rejected by their mother soon after birth
and this (written on Monday...born just a day previously!!!) - 'The cubs were born on Sunday and weighed 1.1 Kg at birth')
'Three of the cubs were stillborn...the fourth removed immediately for hand rearing.'
No they did not! These are just the excuses used by practically everyone who goes into the hand rearing of such animals. I say practically because there is that group of zoos who deliberately hand rear cubs especially for the camera shots and to allow visitors the opportunity to feed baby lions or tigers. They breed these animals especially for this purpose. They may pretend conservation or bandy around phrases like 'breeding programme' but really they have not got a clue. A big question mark hangs over the fate of such cubs once they pass the 'cutie pie' stage.
What happens to them? Where do they go?...it died....we buried it....we cremated it.....Did it really? Did they really? I think not.
Such Cub Factories will argue the necessity of hand rearing for conservations sake. It is all a massive lie.
Another group of people deliberately hand rear so that they can interact with mature and humanised animals and play 'Tarzan' and show off. Such animals have sometimes been mutilated by declawing for the protection during the totally unnecessary interaction.
At The Tiger Temple
Cubbing - The facts
I won't argue with the fact that it IS necessary to handrear sometimes.. but in the world of the zoo professional 'mother knows best' is the best possible road to take.
In a good zoo the professional zoo keeper will have noted the animals mating. With big cats it is a difficult thing to miss. They don't make a secret of it, it is hardly a quiet affair and they mate with a frequency that seems scarcely credible. Forty or fifty times a day for as long as a week is not unusual.
If the female does not cycle again and starts to put on a little weight then these are very good indicators that she may be pregnant. The gestation period is well known and with both Lions and Tigers is very similar. The cubbing requirements of a big cat are no different to that of a domestic cat. They want somewhere dark, dry and comfortable. Above all they want to be left alone and undisturbed.
The cubbing den should be set up at least two weeks before the earliest possible parturition date. Instructions should be issued that no-one other than the routine keeper should approach that area and even they should keep visits to the basic minimum. Entering the cubbing den itself should not actually happen. Food and water should be placed elsewhere so the Dam can go to this herself. The only way anyone should know what is happening in that den is if an infra red camera has been set up.
Cleaning must be forgotten. Don't worry about the smell of ammonia or rotting uneaten meat. It may be distasteful to humans but your average big cat does not care. Her most important, critical requirement is not being disturbed. Peace and quiet.
Not a natural colour
A good zoo keeper will know when the cubs have been born because of physical and behavioural changes of the Dam. Perhaps he/or she will have heard the cubs but at this early stage (unless there is a camera) no-one will have seen the cubs.
If there is a professional set up and protocols in place there is no way on earth that anyone will know how many cubs were born, whether they were stillborn, whether they were abandoned, whether she did not know what to do, whether they were rejected and certainly no-one would have a clue about birth weight.
In fact abandonment and rejection and these other problems are caused by those over keen members of staff who see the need to check. They cause it! They are the reason for rejection and abandonment. Let the mother get on with things. Leave her alone. A month after the birth should be the minimum period before there is a cub check. This is routine professionalism.
A more natural arrangement
There are many of course. Hopefully now you have read this you will think a little differently when you see hand reared cubs on whatever or wherever.
The biggest Cub Factories in Thailand are:
These are all very bad collections. All are very popular with tourists however and get no criticism from authorities. They get away with trade and more without rebuke.
I have been in the zoo business a long time. I have done my share of necessary hand rearing. Along the way I have become certain that mother rearing is definitely best.