Simwa’s journey against deadly odds to stardom at Dehiwala Zoo | Sunday Observer
The tale of a real-life Lion Prince

Simwa’s journey against deadly odds to stardom at Dehiwala Zoo

3 September, 2023

Simwa, the charismatic lion cub, has recently turned out to be cynosure of all eyes at the Dehiwala Zoo. This inexperienced, fuzzy, and playful male wild cat’s youthful presence has significantly boosted the number of visitors to the Dehiwala Zoo, particularly among children eager to catch a glimpse of the real-life lion cub resembling Simba from Disney’s “The Lion King.”

They are treated to a delightful experience at the zoo. The Zoo has allocated specific hours for Simwa’s joyful strolls. The zoo staff takes little Simwa outside its animal care centre to ensure adequate sunlight exposure.

In the vibrant world of the Dehiwala Zoo, Simwa’s captivating frolics and remarkable journeys have drawn visitors from near and far. However, the little lion’s early days were marked by uncertainty and struggle. Simwa endears itself to both zookeepers and visitors alike.

The remarkable tale of Simwa’s journey to stardom began with vulnerability to death, as described by the passionate Director General of the National Zoological Garden, Thilak Premakantha.

A challenging beginning

Thilak Premakantha

Simwa would not have survived had it been born in Savannah, Africa. In the heart of Dehiwala Zoo’s sanctuary, Simwa’s survival defied the harsh trials of the African Savannah. This baby lion was destined for a different fate, fortunate to have fallen under the protective embrace of Dehiwala Zoo’s skilled veterinarians, devoted animal keepers, and compassionate staff after Meera, its mother, refused to nurse it after giving birth to a litter of three, including Simwa, following her pairing with Chandi. The other cubs in the litter were stillborn, leaving Simwa without a mother’s care.

Simwa pulled through thanks to the extraordinary care and unwavering dedication of the Dehiwala Zoo’s remarkable team. Chandi is a male lion who had been reared under the care of the Dehiwala Zoo until it was released to the Ridiyagama Safari Park.

Dehiwala Zoo’s Deputy Director, Dinushika Manawatu, recalls: “Simwa’s survival was tested from day one, for Meera has refused to nurse it.” The decision was made to transfer Simwa to the Dehiwala Zoo immediately, where a team of dedicated veterinarians and staff would provide him with the care he needed to thrive.

“The five-month-old “Baba” (as Dinushika and the Zoo staff affectionately call Simwa) is now out of the woods, thanks to animal keeper Thiranga and our veterinarians. Simwa is under the care of our Veterinarian, Dr. Damitha Dassanayaka,” she said.

“A lion is called an adult only after two years. Simwa is still a Baba,” she said. “However, the problem is that we cannot keep it this way for too long because we have to get it away from the interactions with the humans so that it gets along with the other lions.”

“We may have to take him back to the Ridiyagama Safari Park in a few months for necessary rehabilitation,” she said.

Simwa spends most of his time at the Cub Conservation Centre of the zoo. The animal keepers bring it outside for exercise in the mornings and the evenings for sunlight. That is when the public gets to enjoy its presence. The staff carries him. Chains do not bind Baba.

The boy is a natural athlete. The lions are naturally nomadic creatures. We sometimes have to run after it. Iranga and Anurasiri keep a close eye on it. The care they give to Simwa is excellent, the veterinarians said.

The little guy seems to enjoy people around him looking at him. But at times, it attempts to hide, too.

But it bonds so well with the staff that looks after it.

After a herculean effort, Simwa emerged as a healthy and vibrant lion cub. It had numerous congenital disorders, including seizures, and there were days when the Zoo’s veterinarians and animal attendants would keep him in their hands and not put him down for fear of his health deteriorating.


Dion Shenulka requests Dehiwala zoo staff: “Give me Simwa.”

Meera, its mother, instinctively sensed that he would not survive in the wild and chose not to nurse him. In the wild, it is inconvenient and impractical for a lioness to rear cubs with little chance of survival, so they often prepare for the next breeding cycle.

It escaped death because of veterinary care and the prowess of modern medicine and treatment methods and due to the care given to it. If it was born in the wild, it could not have received any medical help, and the result would be obvious.

Simwa’s mother decided against nursing it because it sensed its chances of survival in the wild were thin. It was inconvenient and impractical for the lioness to rear a cub whose health was at risk at birth.

As Simwa grows, steps will be taken to return him to Ridiyagama Safari Park in a few months. Its mother, Meera, would recognise Simwas as her son, leading to a heartwarming reunion. The lions are highly sociable animals.

Simwa’s veterinarian, Dr. Damitha Dassanayaka, has this to say about Simwa: “The number of visitors coming to the Dehiwala Zoo has doubled because of Simwa’s presence. The children want to see it. It resembles the looks of Simba of the Walt Disney feature animation Lion King. And here, Simwa is for real. The children love him.

We only let Simwa outside for a limited period from 7.30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and some children come to see it early. We did this to expose the animal to the early sunlight.

Then, since we had to unveil it to the public, we brought Simwa out from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. On Thursday, A group of children came here from Medawachchiya to see Simwa.

One of the problems in all the zoos is that on most occasions, the female animals refuse to nurse their cubs. The staff is always on the lookout for such instances, and after an animal delivers its cubs, they watch them for eight to ten hours to see if they nurse them. If not, steps are taken accordingly to save such cubs. We, too, have a special unit in our Zoo for this purpose.”

Simwa did not receive its first feed of breast milk, which is essential for a cub to fight off diseases and allergies for biological protection.

We gave “Big Cat Milk Replacer “and a unique formula to Simwa, which we prepared and measured according to Simwa’s health condition. It was a tough fight indeed to save Simwa, who now weighs about 10 kilograms.”

Animal Section Curator Ashoka Kumara Jayalath, Animal Keeper Iranga Shyama, and Veterinarian doctors Kashmini Sumasekara and Dinuka Sonnadara are among those who contributed to the fight to save Simwa.

Veterinarian Dr. Dhammika Dassanayaka, Deputy Director of National Zoological Gardens Dinushika Manawadu and veterinarian doctors, Kashmini Sumasekara, Dinuka Sonnadara

Stronger the bond, naughtier it can get …Simwa and animal keeper Iranga. (Pix by Ranjith Asanka)