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The four rare lion cubs at Paignton Zoo have been to the vet - or rather, the vet has been to them.

The cubs had their routine first vaccinations at 9 weeks and will receive their second at 12 weeks. They will then get annual boosters.

So how do you vaccinate wild animals? The procedure may be routine, but it takes a team of five. There are two members of Paignton Zoo’s in-house vet team – vet Catherine Bergzoll and vet nurse Celine Campana - plus mammal keepers Helen Neighbour and Dave Rich. Coordinating everything is Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Matthew Webb.

The job is done quickly and efficiently. It’s a thrill to be up close and personal with the cubs, but at the same time staff have to follow safety protocols and be as quick as possible so that the cubs can be reunited with the 120 kilos of protective mother lion who is prowling a few metres away.

The keepers wear big leather gauntlets - the cubs are feisty, snarling throughout, while the growls of mum Indu echo in the den. The four are vaccinated, micro-chipped, given a quick health check and weighed. They are soon back with their mum.

Catherine: “We use a cat vaccine - the process is essentially the same as for pet cats. We give them a thorough exam to check things like their hearts and in male cats we check that their testicles have descended.”

At 9 weeks the four weigh between 7.6 and 8.8 kilos (16 to 19 pounds) – far more than your average adult domestic moggy, which tips the scales at around 4 or 5 kilograms (between 8 and 11 pounds). They are also stronger, wilder and come fully-equipped with claws and teeth.

“Charting their progress can be difficult, as we try to handle them as little as possible,” says Catherine. “Making sure they are growing and increasing in weight is important. We have CCTV cameras so we can check that they are behaving normally and suckling or eating without having to disturb them.”

Mother and cubs have access to the lions’ public enclosure at Paignton Zoo.
 

Quotes An awesome experience. The amount of free space given to the animals was very impressive Quotes Review