World's first artificially conceived lion cubs born in South Africa (Photo: Ukutula Conservation Center)
Watching two newborn lion cubs tumble around and play together is a heartwarming sight, but there's an extra significance to the arrival of two particularly adorable cubs named Victor and Isabel.
They are the world's first lion cubs born from artificial insemination.
The groundbreaking achievement is giving researchers and conservationists hope for many endangered big cat species, not just lions.
The pair of cubs were born on Aug. 25 at the the UCC and Biobank in Brits, North West, South Africa. Scientists at the University of Pretoria are researching the reproductive system of female African lions.
Researchers say the cubs are normal and healthy. The breakthrough births occurred after 18 months of intensive trials.
A step in the right direction
Lions are extinct in 26 African countries and the wild population has plummeted 43 percent over the last two decades, with about 18,000 left, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC).
The wild population is highly fragmented and suffers progressively from geographical isolation and inbreeding. Lions are currently listed as vulnerable on the IUNC Red List of Threatened Species.
"These animals are really cute, they are really beautiful," Willi Jacobs, owner of Ukutula Conservation Center, told AFP News. "And you know if we can get the public also to have this feeling of love for the animals and become involved in conservation, real meaningful conservation, then I think these animals also stand a chance of surviving."
In the video below, Jacobs explains more about the project and how the facility is helping scientists all over the world.