With Cold War contention long over, things are heating up between a Russian and US lion pent up together at the Phnom Tamao Zoo in Takeo province.
Zoo officials are counting on the pair to fill the tourist attraction with cubs, but the lions’ still amorous relationship has many wondering whether they remain in the planning stages.
Female Simao and male Pasgo have been mating since July, but the zoo’s veterinarian cannot determine whether Simao is pregnant.
Living side by side in a 10- square-meter cage, Simao and Pasgo are known to playfully paw at each other before mating, which they do with unabashed frequency. The pair is in love, zoo observers say.
The zoo welcomed 6-year-old Simao to Cambodia in 1999, when the Russian-bred lion became the county’s first lion.
Pasgo, 4, took a longer route to arrive from the US. Transported to Vietnam in a cargo plane, he then was hauled from Ho Chi Minh City to the Phnom Tamao Zoo by truck.
Pasgo’s presence has relieved Simao of her loneliness, said the lions’ supervisor, So Veoun. And it should, he said, as the zoo strategically traded two wildcats for the male to produce offspring.
“There was no sale between us and the US-based zoo. But as a member of the International Conservation Union, we can exchange with any zoo as an ICU member,” said chief veterinarian Nhiek Rottanak Pich.
Still, the lions’ personalities sometimes get in the way of love, So Veoun said.
“The male lion acts like the king of lions that’s not interested in his girlfriend that wants to mate with him. The female lion seems rude,” he said.
Pasgo and Simao occasionally lash out at each other and harass visitors that throw objects into the cage to attract their attention. Apart from the mood swings, the lions are in good health with hearty appetites, Nhiek Rottanak Pich said.
Standing 1.1 meters high and 1.5 meters long, the lions eat between 5 and 7 kg of beef each day, said zoo Director Pin Nivun.
Veterinarians are on standby 24 hours a day to monitor the lions’ health, which may be affected by the hot weather, So Veoun said.
“I will report immediately to the vet if they get sick,” he said, adding that, although the pair prefers cool weather, neither lion has exhibited flulike symptoms.
Nhiek Rottanak Pich said his internationally trained staff is well-prepared to care for the lions. The wildlife conservation NGO WildAID also offers support to the zoo, which houses 86 kinds of wildlife, including bears, tigers and crocodiles.
Cambodia’s lion population grew smaller in number in August, when two lion cubs born in captivity at the Kampot province zoo drowned in heavy rains. The lion’s mother gave birth to three cubs, which zoo officials would not separate from their mother during the rain. The animals’ cage had no roof, which contributed to the cubs’ drowning.
Government officials have made increased efforts to halt the illegal trade of Cambodian wildlife outside zoos in recent years. Parliamentarians in 2002 declared wildlife in Cambodia property of the state, making it illegal to hunt or harass animals.
The motion prompted smugglers to trade their pickup trucks for less conspicuous motorcycles, and the illegal transport of cobras, scaly anteaters and tortoises, among other animals, remains a problem.