by FARAH COWDHURY
THIS is the terrifying moment steely-nerved zoo keepers prized apart the razor-sharp teeth of a 30-stone lion and peered into his mouth.
The 11-year-old Asian lion – named Lucifer after his studbook number 666 – was receiving a final check-up at London Zoo before being to moved as part of a breeding project.
In the interests of maintaing a full set of fingers on each hand, zoo staff had anaesthetised Lucifer, who was trained by keepers to lean against a wall so he could be put under with a hand-held injection rather than a tranquilliser dart.
Staff were joined by vet Tai Strike, who gave the fearsome feline a clean bill of health after a thorough check, counting his teeth, clipping his claws and conducting ultrasound tests.
He is being moved to another breeding group at Paignton Zoo in Devon as part of the Lions400 campaign that aims to raise £5.7m for the species which are on the brink of extinction.
There are only around 400 left in the wild, living in a small patch of the Gir Forest, in western Gujarat, India.
Zoological director David Field says: “The Asian lion is at crisis point, with only 400 left in the wild; clinging on to survival as a single population in one Indian forest. Just one forest fire outbreak or disease epidemic could wipe this species out forever.
“Our Lions400 campaign is fighting to save this ancient species, and we are calling on the public to show their support.
"Lucifer’s move signals the first step in our campaign and will enable plans to be put into place for a new conservation breeding hub and exhibit at the zoo; ensuring we have a back-up population for the future.
“At the same time, funds raised will also allow us to urgently expand our field conservation projects and help protect Asian lions in the wild.”