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Oops! Calf love for African lions
- Cupid roars inside Tata zoo’s most elite enclosure on day of mush

Young love just got wildly younger this Valentine’s Day.

The five African pure-bred lion cubs at Tata Steel Zoological Park, Jamshedpur, are around 20 months old, but leonine princes and princesses are already eyeing each other with interest.

Usually, lionesses mature at age three and lions at three-and-a-half years.

But, well, this is a precocious age. When 19-year-old Justin Bieber, and not 50-year-old Brad Pitt, is today’s Valentine for most, it’s fair to assume the lions and lionesses have also caught up with the times.

Lions Ed and Jumbo, who till recently used to laze inside their respective cells or crawl area, are now spending quality time in the company of royal felines Kimu, Salya and Zoya.

Romance is clearly in the air.

If Jumbo is fonder of Kimu, Ed seems undecided between Salya and Zoya.

A love-struck Jumbo following Kimu or trying to be near her, and a jaunty Ed trying his luck with both Salya and Zoya are common scenes for caretakers.

“It’s natural behavioural change in these magnificent animals. They are growing up and romancing,” a caretaker grinned.

Visitors have also noticed the change. “These two guys often stayed inside their cells. Were born lazy like most young fellows. But, now they’re spending time with the girls,” Manjit Singh, a zoo regular, said.

Tata zoo vet Manik Palit, who keeps daily vigil on the lions, said this change was as recent as the last fortnight.

The double blast of spring and Valentine month is a powerful Cupid indeed.

“It’s true that the lions and lionesses are younger than the time they are supposed to get sexually mature, but these 20-month old kids are experiencing adolescent crushes. This has been known to happen in the animal world,” he said.

The vet said they expected the lions to mate in 2015-end, not before.

“Female lions have a gestation period of three months. So, we can look forward to good news in 2016,” Palit added.

In the wild, many lion cubs mature late because they have to compete for food in the pride, a tough job, as well as need to protect themselves from rival prides. But cubs reared in captivity, well-fed and safe, have no such worries, which is why Cupid strikes them faster.

“This may be a reason behind this change in behaviour,” Palit, who has taken care of the quintet since its arrival from Pretoria in June 2012, said.

Now, it remains to be seen is who gets a Mills-and-Boon ending and who gets a broken heart. There are three girls to two boys, remember.