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Lion watchers learn who’s shy & who’s the star

- Tata zoo’s African cub quintet released in large enclosure; charms denizens with regal bearing & playful antics

Girls who love attention and boys who love eating. South African lionesses Zoya, Kimu and Salya and lions Ed and Jumbo roar out gender stereotypes in front of admiring hordes at Tata Steel Zoological Park, Jamshedpur.

The regal quintet, which arrived in the steel city from National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria, on June 21, are through with their quarantine and outings in the crawl area.

Since September-end, they are finally out in their enclosure in full public view, lapping up adulation of hundreds with queenly and kingly air.

It is obvious from the number of visitors — around 150 per day, even on weekdays — that Jamshedpur adores the lions. After all, residents participated in the leonine christening in unprecedented numbers, putting over 4,000 name options for the quintet and the lone tigress cub.

The best six were — Dona for the tigress, Zoya, Kimu and Salya for the lionesses and Ed and Jumbo for the lions — were selected by an expert panel on the last day of Wildlife Week on October 7.

Now that they have names, no one dares to call them baby or beta.

It is also easier to make out individual characteristics. Jumbo, the biggest, is the loner of the pack, but both he and Ed, the other man in the house, love to wolf down their daily beef.

Girls Zoya, Kimu and Salya are playful. Salya is the naughtiest and the smartest in the sorority of sisters, responding to her name well.

Zoo curator Susen Mahto oversees a three-member team of caretakers Tarkeshwar Ram, Vijay Mukhi and Dinesh Mahto to keep watch on cubs.

“Salya’s the film star,” is the unanimous refrain.

But the others are also no less — they wait for their fans every morning.

“Now that they are out in the enclosure for six hours daily, from 10am to 4pm, they look forward to this outing. Earlier, we released them only on Monday when the zoo was closed to visitors,” said zoo director Bipul Chakravarty.

Caretaker Ram agreed. “In the morning, they wait for drop gates of their cells to open. They make low grunts as if to ask when they’d be allowed out. It is quite funny. Once out, they play, hold mock fights and pounce on birds.”

Chakravarty added their daily diet had been increased. “The cubs eat six kg of beef daily instead of the earlier intake of four and a kg of chicken on Wednesdays and Fridays. Besides, they have daily supplements of Vitamin AD3E and calcium. We are sticking to diet chart suggested by the South African experts,” he said, adding the quintet is made to fast on Mondays to simulate conditions in the wild.

Dona, the offspring of resident tiger couple Shanti and Raghav, has no reason to feel sidelined. “She has her own fan club. We let Dona out with her mother Shanti till 12.30pm daily,” Chakravarty added.