KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Just days before Christmas, Zoo Knoxville is celebrating the birth of two endangered African lion cubs. The cubs were delivered by emergency Cesarean section surgery on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

One male and one female were born, the two are the first offspring of father Upepo and mother Amara and the first lion cubs born in Knoxville since 2006. Amara was expected to give birth in mid to late December, and she was being closely monitored.

When she began showing signs of labor, her delivery was not progressing. She was then was put under anesthesia and taken to the zoo’s animal clinic for an ultrasound. This revealed a cub was lodged in the birth canal in a breech position, endangering Amara and the other cubs.

Her care team, which included veterinarians from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, made the decision to perform emergency surgery. In total, four cubs were delivered, but two did not survive.

The two that did survive are healthy, vocal, and being cared for around the clock by zoo staff with expertise in natal care. The zoo says that the quick intervention is what saved the two cubs. The Zoo said in the release that due to Amara’s surgery and her inexperience as a mother, the cubs will be hand-reared together to ensure they are receiving proper nutrition and care.

The cubs provided another forward step in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums collaboration with the African Lion SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program. The goal of the SAFE Program is to double the number of lions in the wild by 2050.