Youngsters love playing with empty boxes, as these rare lion cubs at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon showed.

The seven-month old Asiatic lions were eager to rip open their presents, even though there was nothing inside!

The four cubs - two males and two females - were born in May to mother Indu and father Mwamba. The girls are called Maliya and Zarina and the boys Jari and Sabal.

The parcels were made and painted by volunteers at the Zoo, which is a registered charity. After a cautious start, the four went for it under mum’s watchful eye. Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “We remove the sticky tape and staples from the boxes, cover them in plain paper and paint them with food colouring, so they are safe. We call this sort of thing environmental enrichment – it is what you do when you give your dog or cat a toy at home, but we have to scale our ideas up for lions and tigers!”

So what will the cubs get for Christmas? Raw meat. The foursome started trying meat from about 3 months and are now pretty much fully-weaned. Senior keeper Lucy Manning: “They get fed joints of beef, whole dead chickens and rabbits. The cubs like the rabbit carcasses as they are more their size. Indu and the cubs get fed together - it’s a lot of food these days!”

Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. Fewer than 400 survive in the wild in the Gir National Park in India. There are conservation breeding programmes in zoos including a European Endangered species Programme (EEP).

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