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3 playful lion cubs debut at Johannesburg Zoo, bringing a new generation and hope for breeding

A white lion cub holds a notebook in his mouth, as three sibling cubs are introduced to the public, at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Three playful lion cubs made their public debut Wednesday, pouncing their way into a large enclosure at the Johannesburg Zoo. Their arrival heralds a new generation of lions at the zoo, which hasn't successfully bred the king of the jungle in five years. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

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A white lion cub holds a notebook in his mouth, as three sibling cubs are introduced to the public, at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Three playful lion cubs made their public debut Wednesday, pouncing their way into a large enclosure at the Johannesburg Zoo. Their arrival heralds a new generation of lions at the zoo, which hasn't successfully bred the king of the jungle in five years. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

JOHANNESBURG - Three playful lion cubs made their public debut Wednesday, pouncing their way into a large enclosure at the Johannesburg Zoo.

Their arrival heralds a new generation of lions at the zoo, which hasn't successfully bred the king of the jungle in five years.

Male white lion Letaba and his two sisters Sabi and Jubba were born in April at a private game farm in Thabazimbi, which is about 230 kilometres (143 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa's commercial centre. The 4-month-old cubs arrived at the zoo in July and were cared for in quarantine until recently.

Letaba, who playfully batted a video camera with his big paw, is the only sibling with a rare white coat inherited from his parents' recessive genes. One of his sisters taunted reporters with a small growl and a leap.

"We are so excited to have the lion cubs. It has been over five years since the zoo has had cubs and our adult lions are aging. These cubs of a new blood line will ensure the continuation of the species in our collection," said Agnes Maluleke, who is responsible for the management of the big cats at the zoo in a northern Johannesburg suburb.

"We are looking into getting more lion cubs that we can actually pair to breed them in the future," Maluleke said.

The zoo has seven adult lions that have all surpassed their natural life expectancy, the zoo said. But for now, the two generations will remain separate.

"We can't put our lion cubs with the big ones because they will definitely kill them," she said.

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