FOUR rare Asiatic lion cubs born at Paignton Zoo are celebrating being six months old.
One of those with the responsibility for their first months is senior keeper of mammals Lucy Manning.
Lucy (pictured) has been at Paignton Zoo for eights years and the team she leads also looks after Sumatran tigers, mandrills, black rhinos, cheetah, maned wolves and, the least dangerous species in their care, coati.
Lucy said: "I particularly like the diversity of species on our section. All our animals have distinct personalities.
"No matter what else is going on in your life, they always have a way of making you smile and lifting your spirits.
The Asiatic lion is a species on the edge of extinction. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the wild population is about 350 animals, with just 175 of them mature adults.
Poaching incidents in the Gir Forest, in India, are on the increase.
Meanwhile, there are about 100 Asiatic lions in European zoos and another 300 worldwide.
Paignton Zoo supports the international conservation efforts by being part of the European Endangered species Programme, or EEP, for the species.
In 2011, three males and six females were born in the EEP, while 19 cubs were reared in 2010.
So the four cubs at Paignton Zoo are a real boost to the efforts to save the species.
Lucy: "Young animals are all cute and the lion cubs are awesome — it's fantastic to see them doing so well.
"It's very tempting to want to be more hands on, but Indu is doing great on her own and that is how it should be. Lions should behave like lions and not be petted and humanised."
Looking after the lions usually involves cleaning the outside paddock first thing in the morning and then getting the animals outside so that the keepers can clean the dens.
"In the evening the animals come in to be fed and are shut in safely overnight.
She added: "Indu is usually friendly and likes the company of keepers. She was less keen when she first had the cubs and wouldn't let us near her or even look in the dens. She is more relaxed now — she lets the cubs come up to us at the fence.
"The cubs are well aware that we provide the meat and are very keen to come over and see if we are going to feed them. So long as mum is close by they are very confident.
"Mwamba doesn't like Indu being near us and will tell her off if he sees us together — he will come to us to take food but mostly stays well away or jumps at the fence to shout at us."
She said it was quite scary working with big cats at first, adding: "When you start it can be quite scary, but as you get used to them you find you can predict what they are going to do, so you don't get a shock when they jump up.
"You never get complacent — you follow the protocols with locks and slides. I check it's safe 20 times before I go out into the paddock."