By Sophie Jones
RARE and beautiful photographs have shown newborn lion cubs playing in the open despite lionesses normally hiding for months after giving birth.
In the images, cubs no older than eight weeks are being cuddled by their mother as they relax in the grass at India’s Gir National Park.
The mother lioness was captured licking one cub so young and tiny that her pink tongue was bigger than his entire head.
In another sweet image, the whole family was grouped together and snuggled between the giant front paws of the lioness.
Gir National Park is the last habitat of the Asiatic lion which is so endangered that only approximately 600 remain in the wild – although the number is climbing thanks to conservation efforts.
These extraordinary photographs were taken by Maulik Thakar (42) CEO and founder of Aashrey Homes from Baroda, India, who said it was an “unforgettable experience”.
He was approximately 60ft away from the lioness and used Nikon D850 and Nikon D500 DSLR cameras to take the shots.
“We kept hearing the cute growls of the cubs and ultimately they came out looking for the lioness and we witnessed almost 30 minutes of mother and cub cuddling and play,” he said.
“Observing and photographing wild animals in their natural habitat when they share these raw, uninhibited moments of interaction and bonding with each other is why we pursue this hobby.
“It is an extremely fortunate, blissful experience and it is a privilege to witness it.
“Lots of people are amazed and commend me for these pictures.
“But I feel, because of the excellent conservation efforts of the locals and the forest officials these animals are thriving and access to their environment and life has become much more easier for enthusiasts like us.
“The coexisting locals and the forest officials deserve a lot of gratitude for this.”