The Dallas Zoo is celebrating the birth of three adorable African lion cubs – one male and two females – born on August 17 to Bahati and Kijani. This is the first time since 1974 that the Zoo has welcomed a litter of multiple lion cubs.
The Zoo’s carnivore zoologists researched names for each cub that perfectly match their personalities and unique circumstances. The first cub, a male, will be called Izwi (IS-we), which means “vocal” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe. Izwi came into this world with a strong personality and a lot to say! The second cub, a female, has been named Ilola (ee-LOH-la), meaning “to become strong” in the Sesotho language of South Africa. Ilola has overcome significant challenges to become strong, including weeks of physical therapy to correct developmental issues in her legs. Bahati’s third cub, also female, will be called Tadala (ta-DAH-la), which means “we have been blessed” in the southeast-African Chewa language. During Bahati’s initial ultrasounds, it was clear that two cubs were developing. During the birth, the Zoo was thrilled to find three cubs instead.
“We are overjoyed to see Bahati, who was our first lion cub in 43 years, become a mother and play a crucial role in protecting her species from extinction,” said Gregg Hudson, the Dallas Zoo’s President & CEO. “These three cubs are the embodiment of resiliency, strength, and hope, which we hope can be a bright spot in our community right now.”
The Zoo’s three-year-old female lion, Bahati, delivered the three cubs via Caesarian section. Bahati was closely monitored as she went into labor, and the Zoo’s veterinary staff made the critical decision to intervene after natural labor failed to progress in a timely manner and created an unsafe situation for the cubs.
“The cubs were not positioned correctly in Bahati’s birth canal, meaning that a natural birth would likely have had a negative impact on her health as well as the cubs’,” said Harrison Edell, the Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Thanks to our veterinarians’ thorough preparation and decisive decision-making from our animal management team, all three cubs arrived without incident and are able to thrive under the close watch of our team and, of course, mom Bahati.”
Bahati remains behind the scenes with her cubs as she recovers from the C-section surgery. She exhibited curiosity early on, and even while she was resting in a different area than the cubs, she positioned herself so she could see them. The Zoo’s veterinary staff monitored and hand fed all three cubs until Bahati was ready for a reintroduction to her little ones. Bahati’s aunt, Jasiri, joined mother and cubs, modeling appropriate behaviors for Bahati and taking an active social role, just as lions would in a wild pride.
Even still, the challenges were far from over for Ilola, one of the female cubs who was born weighing less than her siblings and who had some developmental challenges.
“Developmentally, this cub found it difficult to walk, and she also had trouble maintaining her glucose level, which is vital to support healthy growth,” said Edell. “Our expert veterinary staff kept a watchful eye on her and immediately devised a plan, beginning physical therapy to help her walk correctly.”
Ilola responded well to the initial physical therapy and has made amazing strides to correct her gait. At this point, all three cubs are eating well, gaining weight, and spending time with mom.
Bahati and her cubs will remain behind the scenes in their den for another 4-6 weeks before making their official public debut. The cubs will be gradually introduced to the rest of the pride, including their grandmother Lina, as well as their father Kijani. The Zoo will share updates and the date of the cubs’ debut on its social media channels.
Three-year-old Kijani came to the Dallas Zoo in March of 2020 to breed with Bahati on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP aims to maintain a sustainable and healthy lion population, ensuring genetic diversity of animals in AZA institutions. The pair bonded quickly and soon began exhibiting breeding behaviors. Zoo staff suspected the pregnancy in April, which was later confirmed by ultrasound in June.
African lions are native to Sub-Saharan Africa, where they roam the savanna and open grasslands. Their numbers have dwindled by 50% in the last 25 years, and the species faces ongoing threats from poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict. The Dallas Zoo is proud to support a healthy African lion population in human care through our work with the AZA’s Lion Species Survival Plan as a safeguard against extinction. These animals serve as critical ambassadors for their wild counterparts.