The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore announced the "bittersweet" news Thursday that its first-ever lion cubs had been born, but their mother had died of birth complications.
Lioness Badu, just 31/2 years old, went into labor and gave birth to two cubs, a male and a female, last Thursday. When she showed signs of distress the next day during her attempt to deliver a third, the veterinary staff made the decision to perform a cesarean section. Two more cubs were delivered but neither survived.
Although Badu was attentive to her living cubs, she was unable to care for them, and they were removed and cared for by staff.
"She continued to have complications, and despite the best efforts of both veterinary and animal staff, Badu died Monday afternoon," said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior veterinarian at the zoo.
The staff is now focused on the well-being of the cubs, who, at about 4 pounds each, are just beginning to be able to see.
"This is a tremendous loss for the zoo," said the zoo's president, Donald P. Hutchinson. "Badu was a young cat, wonderful to watch on exhibit and a good mate to Hassan," who is the father of the cubs.
Badu was brought to the zoo as a mate for Hassan at the recommendation of the Lion Species Survival Plan and because Cuma, the zoo's other adult lion, is, at 16, past her breeding age.
The cubs will remain secluded for some time. They are being bottle-fed with kitten formula by staff and are thriving and very active, said Bronson.
"Ideally, they will be able to be introduced to the other lions, but that will be some time in the future," said Margie Rose-Inness, assistant general curator at the zoo.
"Lions are very social animals," said a zoo spokeswoman, Jane Ballentine, often living in prides of up to 20. But Cuma, while very "mellow," is getting on in years and Hassan, a first-time father at 6 years old, has never been around cubs.
"They can see each other, hear each other and smell each other," said Bronson. "We will see how things progress."
The zoo staff was deeply saddened by the loss of the young lioness, said Bronson. "We want to leave them alone as much as possible," she said of the zoo's animals. "But we grow quite attached to them."