Gita and Gira are two female Asiatic lions, who were born in captivity in Helsinki in Finland. They will be joined by a male lion from a Spanish zoo later this summer to start a new pride here in Cork.
Compared to their African cousins, Asiatic lions have shaggier coats, with a longer tassel on the end of the tail and longer tufts of hair on the elbows.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park said: “Protecting the remaining Asiatic lions in the wild is crucial to enable the population to grow and ensure the future survival of this irreplaceable species.
“However, the population of almost 200 Asian lions within zoos and parks forms an essential safeguard and genetic resource if disease, social economic factors, or political issues cause a dramatic fall in the wild populations as has happened in the past.
“Fota Wildlife Park is committed to the conservation of this species and, long-term, the wildlife park hopes to contribute to the captive breeding programme for one of the world’s most endangered big cats.”
After being hunted to the brink of extinction by the early 1900s, there are only an estimated 500 Asiatic lions in the wild, mainly living in the Indian state of Gujarat. Due to conservation initiatives, this wild population is steadily increasing but the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as it is still vulnerable to many threats. An outbreak of contagious disease or a natural disaster could have drastic consequences for the species.
Male Asian lions measure 1.7 to 2.5 metres long and weigh 150kg to 250kg, while the females measure 1.4m to 1.75m in length, and weigh in at 120kg to 182kg.
The Asian lion’s tail averages around 70sm to 105cm long.
The new pride could begin growing immediately, as mating can take place all year round.
With a gestation period of less than 120 days, Fota could have its first litter of lion cubs early next year.