Idaho Falls Zoo is thrilled to announce the extraordinary birth of a male African Lion cub! The cub was born February 17 to first-time parents, Kimani and Dahoma.
“Unfortunately, shortly after his birth, the cub had to be removed from his mom to be treated for a medical issue. We are pleased to report that he has completely recovered and is almost ready to be returned to his mother,” states Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Rhonda Aliah.
Because of the advanced age of the parents and the unique genetics of the couple, this adorable little guy is extremely important to the captive African Lion population in North American zoos. Although reintroducing this genetically valuable cub to his parents is essential for his development, the process is not simple or straightforward.
To lessen any risk, the cub will be returned to his mother when he is bigger and more mobile. The AZA and other zoo professionals explored all possible options for the cub. “Everyone agreed that the only option available was to keep the cub at the Idaho Falls Zoo and eventually reintroduce him to his parents,” states Aliah.
When the time comes for the cub to re-join his family, a Lion manager from the Denver Zoo, who has experience with conducting these types of reintroductions and who serves as an advisor to the AZA’s Lion SSP, will be onsite during the reintroduction. The Lion manager will help interpret behaviors and guide zoo staff during what will be a very stressful and potentially dangerous, yet important, time in the cub’s life.
In the meantime, the cub needs to be socialized. Lions are the most social of the big cat species, and sociability is incredibly important for behavioral and psychological reasons. Young cubs rely on other members of their pride to teach them how to be adults. A cub that has been away from his parents is at risk for not being easily accepted back into the pride and could be injured or killed when reintroduced.
So, how do you keep a Lion cub social without being around other Lions? ...meet Justice, another new member of the zoo family.
Justice is a not a lion, but a Great Pyrenees with wonderful mothering instincts. Two-year-old Justice is a rescue dog that has had at least one litter of puppies. When rescued, representatives with the Humane Society of the Upper Valley found her alone caring for her puppies, as well as a weak sheep. Her puppies have all been rehomed, and now Justice has a new role: nursemaid to a rambunctious two-month old African Lion cub!
Zoo Curator, Darrell Markum, explains, “An important aspect of animal development, particularly with baby carnivores, is having an adult animal teach ‘animal etiquette.’ This includes not biting other animals hard enough to injure them and not using your claws to climb on your elders. Justice is a very patient teacher.”
Given the unique situation, the use of domestic dogs to raise young carnivores is an accepted practice in modern zoos.
The Lion (Panthera leo) is one of the big cats in the genus Panthera and a member of the family Felidae. The commonly used name, “African Lion”, collectively denotes the several subspecies in Africa. Some males have exceeded 250 kg (550 lb) in weight, making this the second-largest living cat after the tiger.
The African Lion is currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN. The primary threats and causes of their continuous decline include: disease, human interference, habitat loss, and conflicts with humans.
In only 30 years, wild African Lion numbers have declined by a startling 40 percent. The new cub is an example of the important role Idaho Falls Zoo, as an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), plays in both local and global conservation efforts to save threatened and endangered species through a program known as the Species Survival Plan (SSP).
Justice and the cub are now on exhibit daily, between 10am and 3pm (weather permitting).
For up-to-date information and fun sneak peeks of playful antics of this unique pairing, follow the Idaho Falls Zoo on Facebook, Instagram and on the zoo website: www.idahofallsidaho.gov/735/Zoo