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1_lion cubs-Jackie Curts

With their awesome strength and intense beauty, Lions are one of Africa’s most iconic animals. Yet as these regal cats are in decline in the wild, three adorable newborns at the Indianapolis Zoo will help inspire awareness and support for conservation of the species.

The African Lion cubs, two males and a female, were born on September 21 to first-time mother, Zuri, and first-time dad, Nyack. When Zookeepers arrived the day of the cubs’ birth, they found that 9-year-old Zuri had already delivered her first cub sometime during the night or early morning. The others followed around 10am and 1:15pm. These are the first African Lions born at the Zoo since 2003.

2_lion cubs4-Jackie Curts

3_lion cubs5-Jackie Curts

4_lion cubs6-Jackie CurtsPhoto Credits: Jackie Curts / Indianapolis Zoo

Adult Lions are one of the most fearsome predators on Africa’s plains, yet newborns are defenseless and rely solely on their mothers for survival. Zuri has shown excellent maternal behavior and is a caring, protective mom to her trio.

The youngsters are nursing well and growing, currently weighing between 7.5 and 9.5 pounds. Like all Lion cubs, the babies were born with mottled fur. Their dark spots will eventually fade, though some young adults still show hints of brown in their sleek, golden coats.

Zuri and her cubs will remain indoors for several months, to protect the health of the newborns. The family is expected to make its debut in Spring 2016, and at that time, guests will be able to get closer than ever before. Renovations are currently under way at the Lion Exhibit, and new glass windows and expanded viewing areas will allow visitors to get within inches of the ferocious felines.

Even before visitors have a chance to come face to fuzzy face with the new cubs, they will soon be able to vote on the babies’ names, through a poll on the Zoo’s Facebook page. More details will be announced soon.

In the wild, African Lions are the only big cats that live in family groups, called ‘prides’. Males, distinguishable by their thick, dark manes, are the defenders of the pride and its territory. Females hunt and provide for the group.

A formidable combination of power and prowess, these big cats have no natural predators. Yet Lion populations throughout Africa have declined by an estimated 42 percent in the past 21 years, due mainly to conflicts with humans, including poachers, farmers and trophy hunters. As a result, African Lions are classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Indianapolis Zoo is helping to preserve Africa’s biodiversity by supporting multiple conservation efforts there. Additionally, the Lions at the Zoo serve as ambassadors, helping to raise awareness for the threats the species faces.

5_lion cubs7-Jackie Curts

6_lion cubs2-Jackie Curts

7_lion cubs8-Jackie Curts