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Lion cubs from one of world's rarest species born at French zoo, raising slim hopes

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Asiatic lion Shiva, the mother of three cubs, looks out over her domain in the Besancon zoo, eastern France, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. The Besancon zoo held off announcing the December 31 2013 births until this week, afraid the two females and a male might not survive. There are about 300 Asiatic lions in the wild, all in an Indian reserve, according to the WWF. It's one of the world's rarest species. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)The Associated Press

Three Asiatic lion cubs are making their debut at a zoo in eastern France, raising slim hopes for one of the world's rarest species.

The Besancon (beuz-an-sohn) zoo held off announcing the Dec. 31 births until this week, afraid the two females and a male might not survive. Their mother let a single cub die last year, and the three are being kept from their father until zookeepers are sure he won't hurt them.

There are about 300 Asiatic lions in the wild, all in an Indian reserve, according to the WWF. About the same number are in captivity.

"Lions in captivity will not be reintroduced in nature — or probably not — because they are used to men and might potentially be dangerous," zookeeper Guillaume Limouzin said Thursday.