We have a new lioness

We have welcomed a new Asiatic lioness – Sonika.

The three-year-old joined Ketan, our six-year-old male, from Cotswold Wildlife Park on Wednesday (1 May) and is settling in well and getting to know her new companion.

The lioness was born at the Oxfordshire wildlife park in 2016 and was one of three female cubs. 

Sonika and Ketan’s introductions were carefully managed by the Zoo’s expert animal team, who have a long and successful track record of working with lions.

Sonika was left to settle in to her new home quietly in the off-show dens before being given access to a paddock where she could see and smell Ketan. Once keepers were confident they were both displaying positive behaviours, the two met for the first time.

Curator of mammals at Bristol Zoo Gardens, Lynsey Bugg, described their first get-together: “We are experienced in introducing new lions to each other but were very aware that introductions don’t always go to plan. It’s a sensitive process and we very much take the lions’ lead.  

“On arrival, Sonika chose to explore the off-show dens before entering our larger lion paddock, where the pair could see and smell each other through a mesh fence.  

“They were left overnight and, on observation the following morning, we decided it was time to mix them. We are delighted to say that after some initial sniffing and dominance pawing, Ketan and Sonika are now gradually being introduced and are getting to know one another.”

Ketan’s genes are currently well-represented in the European breeding programme for Asiatic lions, so Bristol Zoo Gardens has not been recommended to breed from the pair by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the experts who manage the European Endangered species Programme (EEP) for Asiatic lions.

Sonika has replaced Ketan’s twin brother, Kamran, who lived at the Zoo alongside his brother since their birth. The twins were hand-reared by keepers after their mother stopped caring for them.

Kamran moved to Tehran Zoological Gardens in Iran two days before Sonika’s arrival and will continue the breeding programme for this Endangered species. He will form a new pairing with a lioness from Dublin Zoo.

Lynsey added: “We are all sad to see Kamran go. He was a lovely, majestic creature, but we are thrilled that the brothers are forming new pairings with female lions - as they would in the wild. The brothers got along well, considering their maturity, but the time was right for them to go on and create their own pride.

“We’ve been informed by Tehran Zoo that Kamran has arrived safely and is settling in to his new home. He will be exploring his new home for a few days before the lioness goes out to join him.”

Visitors can see Sonika and Ketan in their home at Bristol Zoo. Lion talks take place at the Zoo from Monday-Friday at 11am. There is also the chance to meet Ketan and Sonika during a private meet and feed experience, available for one to two people. Click here to find out more.

Asiatic lions are from the state of Gujarat in India, where there are thought to be only several hundred left in the wild. While the population is low, it has remained stable for the last couple of years.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the Zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

 Photo by Cotswold Wildlife Park


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