Big cat lover Stuart Longworth got more than he bargained for when he visited South Lakes Safari Zoo.
For his birthday, his wife Dawn gave him a “gift experience”, where he could get up close to two kinds of big cats.
And while he was looking forward to feeding the animals – he did not expect to watch one of them give birth.
Stuart, of Aycliffe Drive, Buckshaw Village, said: “Initially I was going to go for the tigers and lions, but they suggested I have a look at the pair of jaguars because one was expecting any day, possibly that day.”
Stuart fed the tigers, before going to see jaguars Saka and Benita with big cat keeper, Mark Conway.
“I started feeding Saka, the male one, and then we looked at each other, me and the keeper, and started smiling because as we were doing that, the mum put herself in a corner and started giving birth to a baby jaguar,” Stuart said.
“Even the keepers don’t normally see this – they usually turn up to see one of them has had a baby.”
It came as a real surprise to Stuart. He said: “I didn’t just get the experience I expected, I got something special. It was all a bit of a shock. It certainly made my day.”
His family – wife Dawn and children, Harry, 15, and Georgia, 10 – had gone along to watch the experience and also saw the birth.
Stuart, who works as a heating engineer, said: “They saw the baby through the glass so they were somewhat excited as well.
“My 10-year-old daughter thought it was amazing.”
The area was cordoned off to shield the jaguars from public view, and a second cub was born.
And Stuart was invited to feed the lions too, after his visit to the jaguars was cut short.
The jaguar cubs have both now been identified as female – dashing Stuart’s hopes that the first-born would be named after him. “Stuart the jaguar has a ring to it,” he said.
The jaguar cubs cannot be seen by the public yet, but they are making good progress.
Karen Brewer, the zoo’s marketing manager, said: “You never know with first-time mums – it can be a bit of a struggle – but she has really taken to it.
“They are really strong cubs and she is looking after them well.
“Stuart has been very lucky.
“He was in the right place at the right time, and it must have been a fantastic experience for him.”