There’s a lot to roar about this summer at Denver Zoo with the arrival of an African Lion cub. The cub, whose sex has yet to be determined, was born on July 25 to mom Neliah, 7, and dad Tobias, 3. Animal care staff say mom and cub are both healthy and active, and bonding behind the scenes. Although the cub won’t make his or her public debut until later this summer, zoo guests can still catch a glimpse of Neliah and her cub on TV screens near the exhibit.
“This is Neliah’s second time around as a mom, so we were confident she’d show all the correct behaviors with her new cub,” said Assistant Curator of Predators Matt Lenyo. “She immediately started grooming and nursing the cub, which is exactly what we hoped she would do.”
Half of Africa’s Lions have disappeared in the past 25 years and the species faces growing threats from poaching, loss of prey, and habitat destruction. The cub’s birth is a huge success for the Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy, genetically diverse populations of Lions within Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions. The SSP recommended Tobias move to Denver in 2018 as a potential mate for Neliah and her daughter, Kamara.
“Tobias hasn’t fathered any cubs previously, which makes his genetics important to the AZA Lion population,” said Colahan. “The fact that he’s already successfully mated with one of our females speaks to the work our Lion team put in to make Tobias feel comfortable in his new home in such a short period of time.”
Neliah and the cub will stay behind the scenes for at least one to two months to give them time to bond and gradually introduce the cub to the rest of the pride. They'll primarily stay in their den box, which the animal care team provides to mimic the space Neliah would seek out to give birth in the wild. Neliah will still have access to other holding areas behind the scenes, but the addition of the den box provides a sense of security for mom and cub.