A litter of two African lion cubs was born at the Saint Louis Zoo on July 17. While one of the two females was stillborn, the mother lion, Cabara, age 5, seemed to be interested in caring for her surviving cub. After about six days, however, the little cub appeared dehydrated and so was removed for hand-rearing at the Zoo’s veterinary hospital. As a result she appears to be quite healthy after three weeks of hand-feeding! Her name is Imani, which means “faith” in Swahili
“What happens sometimes with a big cat nursing a single cub is that she doesn’t have enough stimulation for lactation and may not produce enough milk,” according to Steve Bircher, curator of mammals/carnivores at the Saint Louis Zoo. “In the future, we hope that Cabara will give birth to a larger litter and raise them successfully.” Several hours each day, keepers return her to a den next to her mother. The staff hopes to reintroduce the cub and mother sometime in the future.
“Lions are social animals, and the cub needs to grow up in a family group if at all possible,” explains Bircher. “We hope to raise a well-adjusted lion.” The African lion is a social cat that lives in a pride, or family group, mainly comprised of up to 40 related adult females and their young. Male lions generally live with a pride for two to three years. A female lion normally gives birth to a litter of three to four cubs, after a gestation period of approximately 110 days. The lion pride usually hunts as a group and preys on medium to large-sized antelopes, zebra and buffalo.
In the past 25 years, the wild lion population has halved. Currently there are fewer than 25,000 lions surviving in Africa. Habitat loss, poaching and human-lion conflict have contributed to this significant decline. The lion has been listed as vulnerable by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is one level below threatened with extinction.
In addition to increasing awareness of the lion’s plight in the wild, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has developed the Lion Species Survival Plan, a program that manages a genetically healthy captive population of lions in North American zoos. Currently there are 337 lions living in 100 AZA institutions, which may serve as a genetic reserve for this species in the future.