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First UK wolverine cubs born at Cotswold Wildlife Park

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Media captionThe cubs have spent nine weeks in their den but are now exploring their new woodland enclosure

Three wolverine cubs have been born at Cotswold Wildlife Park in the first ever successful attempt to breed the species in captivity in the UK.

The park near Burford, in Oxfordshire, is part of the European endangered species breeding programme (EEP).

The new cubs were born to Sharapova and her mate Sarka at the end of January and recently emerged from their den.

The wolverine, which is part of the weasel family, was hunted to extinction in most of Europe in the 19th Century.

Bryan Taylor, senior keeper, said staff had realised Sharapova had given birth but did not know how many cubs there were until she started bringing them out.

'Fearsome reputation'

He said: "We obviously knew she'd had cubs because her behaviour had changed.

"She was using the nest box more regularly and she was keeping the male away.

"We knew there were cubs there but we couldn't intervene so we just had to wait and see how many we had."

Image caption Sharapova has been very protective of her cubs and chases the father away

The wolverine, which is also related to otters, polecats and badgers, looks similar to the otter but is larger with more fur.

Only about 80 wolverines are believed to exist in captivity worldwide.

Jamie Craig, curator of Cotswold Wildlife Park and member of the EEP committee for wolverines, said: "The wolverines are a particular favourite at the park and certainly do not deserve their fearsome reputation.

"Having said that, Sharapova is extremely protective of her cubs and keeps a close eye on the inquisitive male, Sarka.

"We are delighted to be the first UK collection to breed this species and the cubs will eventually move on to become important breeding animals in other European zoos."

He said the wolverine births were the only ones recorded in Europe this year as part of the EEP.

The cubs are born blind, with a cream coloured coat, which turns darker at the same time as their face mask develops.

The cubs have been given the Finnish names Ensin, Nalka and Niemi, since the species feature prominently in many Finnish myths and legends.

Wolverines are elusive in the wild and are also known as "The Glutton" due to their rapacious appetite.

Historically, they have had a reputation for their powerful bite and ferocity.

The animals are found primarily in remote reaches of Scandinavia, Canada, the northern US and Russia.

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