This summer vacation, children can watch lion cubs playing in the ponds at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli.
After two decades, the national park has added three new cubs — Jespa, Gopa and Little Shobha — to the lion safari. The eight-month-old cubs, born last September, were included in the safari along with their mother Shobha. The cubs — two males and a female — are the first set of lions born at the park in 20 years. They have been named after characters in Born Free, a 1966 film about a real-life couple who raised an orphaned lion cub and released it into the wilderness of Kenya.
The addition of the cubs raises the count of lions at SGNP to six.
“The cubs will be released in the safari at 10am in the morning every day, barring Thursday. At 5.30pm, when it is feeding time, they will return to their enclosure with Shobha,” said Sunil Limaye, director, SGNP.
“The idea is to give them maximum time in the open. We are planning to release the other two male lions only on Thursdays,” Limaye added.
To help them adapt to the outdoor environment, park authorities have been releasing the cubs and Shobha once a week since the past month. “The first time they were released in the open, the cubs were running around everywhere and enjoyed playing in the water ponds. Since there are no prey in the safari zone, they will return to their enclosure in the evening,” said Dr Vinaya Jangle, veterinary officer, SGNP.
Seven-year-old Shobha, who was brought to SGNP in 2009 from Bannerghatta National Park, Karnataka, is the only lioness in the park. Her mate Badshah and another male lion are the only other adult lions at SGNP.
The entry of the cubs is set to boost the lion safari, which is popular among tourists. At present, the safari witnesses between 100 and 125 visitors everyday between 9am and to 5.30pm, with the count going up to 350 over the weekends. Two buses covered with mesh, with one attendant each, ply the visitors through the safari.