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Introducing Werribee Open Range’s First Lion Cubs

1_Lion Cubs 5- Photo Cormac Hanrahan

Werribee Open Range Zoo, near Melbourne, Australia, has welcomed the arrival of three African Lion cubs.

Born in the early hours of October 20, this is the first litter for mom Nilo, and father Johari, and it is the first Lion birth in Werribee Open Range Zoo’s history.



4_12369009_10153441650573068_4676618566990063375_nPhoto Credits: Images 1,5,7: Cormac Hanrahan / Images 2,3,4: Zoos Victoria / Images 6: Will Watt 

Nilo and her cubs were off display in a special nesting den, with vets and keepers monitoring them closely via a video camera link, for the first few months.

The cubs marked a milestone with their six-week health check. Vets and Keepers were able to weigh and examine each of cubs, checking their heart, lungs, ears, eyes and movement.

Senior Veterinarian Dr. Natalie Rourke said that she was pleased with the health and development of the cubs, “All three cubs are a good, healthy weight and developing as they should. They are moving around well and have started wrestling with one another – which is a great sign they are strong and robust.”

While mum Nilo was enjoying time outside with her pride mates Johari and Nairibi, staff were able to enter the nesting den, to quickly examine, weigh, microchip and vaccinate the cubs. At six weeks, the cubs weighed in at approximately 6.8kg, and staff were also thrilled to finally determine the sex of the cubs – three boys.

Now, at two months of age, the cubs are beginning to explore the world around them, venturing out on public display with mum Nilo for short periods during the day.

At this age, mum’s tail is also a source of great fascination and they love playing amongst logs and branches.

As the cubs grow and develop, Keepers have also been introducing new items such as cardboard tubes, boxes and lots of new scents to encourage discovery and play.

During the day the cubs are also spending time in the dens to rest and to get to know the rest of the pride, including Lioness Nairibi and dad Johari.

Recently, the boys reached another important milestone---names! The public assisted in voting on appropriate monikers for the feisty cubs, and Keepers announced the winners.

The largest and most adventurous of the trio has been named Kubwa, which means big or large in Swahili.

The cub with the lightest coat has been named Kashka, which is a Nigerian name for friendly. Of the all the cubs, Kashka is particularly curious to Keepers.

Kito, which means precious in Swahili is a fitting name for the third cub, who stays close to mum and is often spotted curled up between her paws.

Born after a relatively short gestation period, Lion cubs are particularly vulnerable at birth, opening their eyes at approximately ten days and becoming mobile at three weeks of age. In the wild, expectant lionesses move away from the pride, seeking a protected area to raise their cubs for the first six weeks in privacy, before introducing them to the pride.

Leading up to the birth, Nilo was given access to a special nesting den away from her pride mates, providing her with a secluded space to give birth and to bond with her cubs.

The Lion (Panthera leo) is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The main threats to them are: indiscriminate killing (primarily as a result of retaliatory or pre-emptive killing to protect humans or livestock), prey base depletion, and trophy hunting in some areas of Africa. The illegal trade of in body parts for medicinal purposes also poses a threat. Disease also plays a role in depletion of subpopulations.

Lions are in trouble in the wild, with populations disappearing from much of their original range as a result of human conflict and habitat loss. It’s estimated that there may be as few as 20,000 – 30,000 Lions left in the wild.

Kenya is one of the last strongholds for the species and Zoos Victoria is working to help protect wildlife in Northern Kenya through the community-based, Beads for Wildlife program.

5_Lion Cubs 3- Photo Cormac Hanrahan_sm

6_Lion Cubs - Werribee Open Range Zoo - Will Watt_sm

7_Lion Cubs 4- Photo Cormac Hanrahan_sm