Lion Cubs: All Grown

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Ekundu, top, and Nyack from earlier this year.

Where has the time gone? It really does seem like only yesterday when we watched as the eight African lion cubs attacked the boxes and frozen treat enrichment items we put out for their first birthday celebration in November 2008 (see Lion Cubs Turn One). Now, only one of our “pride of cubs” remains with us at Lion Camp at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park: Ekundu, the smallest of Oshana and Izu’s two boys. All the others are settled into their new homes across the country with loving and glowing reports from their new keepers.

Laini, Tamu, and Ingozi were the first to leave. It was a sunny January morning when we loaded them into their crates and placed each crate into a modified stock trailer. It was hard to let the first of our cubs go, but we knew all of these cubs were born with a mission: to go out into the world and help keep the captive lion population diversified and strong. Oshana’s two girls, Laini and Tamu, were sent to Jacksonville, Florida, where they were introduced to a young male. Their keepers tell us stories of Laini and Tamu chasing turtles and lounging in the Florida sunshine. Mina’s boy, Ingozi, was sent to St. Louis, Missouri. He has been paired up with a young lioness. Their keepers tell us stories of Ingozi and his girlfriend romping around their exhibit, climbing trees, and engaging in a rambunctious game of tag.

Then Mina’s smallest girl, Kaya, headed off to the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona. When she got to her new home, she was greeted by her personal staff and a news crew documenting her arrival. Her keepers tell us she enjoys her pond and her favorite toys.

Shortly after Kaya got to her new home, a van arrived at Lion Camp from Wildlife Safari in Oregon to pick up her sister, Sarabi; she was escorted safely to her new home by her own personal entourage. Her keepers tell us Sarabi settled into her new home well. They say she is playful and fun and enjoys chasing the birds.

Next to leave was Oshana’s biggest boy, Zawadi. His ride showed up to take him to his new home in Portland, Oregon. He arrived there safe and sound, with two lionesses waiting for him. His keepers tell us he rests on his back and looks lazily at his world from his upside-down vantage point (a habit he shares with his father, Izu).

Our hand-raised boy, Nyack, left for his new home in April. It was a bittersweet sendoff for his keepers. He arrived at his new home in Indianapolis safely and made it through his 30-day quarantine without a problem. His keepers tell us they are working on building their own relationship with him and are looking forward to introducing him to his new female companions.

Ekundu is our last “cub,” although he’s hardly a cub anymore at two-and-a-half years old and 365 pounds (166 kilograms). He is waiting to go to his new home, and until then we are happy to keep him here.

It was quite an adventure having all those cubs—Lion Camp had never been so full of challenges and lions! As for now, it’s nice to have a bit of time to regroup. One can never tell what the future may bring, but whatever happens, we should be ready.

Amy Whidden-Winter is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.