lion cubs


Lion Cubs: All Grown

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.


Lion Cubs Turn One

Ingozi dashes over to see what Kaya has.

Ingozi dashes over to see what Kaya has.

It’s hard to believe that our little cubs at the Wild Animal Park’s Lion Camp are already one year old. Where did the time go? (see blog, Lion Cubs Grow by the Minute.) It seems like only yesterday we were looking into those soft brown eyes, wondering, “Are you Tamu or Laini?” “Is your left shoulder or left hip to be shaved?” Now I look into those eyes and a whole personality appears.

Oshana’s boy Zawadi is the biggest of all the cubs. Weighing in at 198 pounds (90 kilograms), he is quite the presence. He has a laid-back demeanor with the keepers and with the other cubs most of the time, but he can be quite the lion when he wants something. When he sets his sights on a toy or food item, he doesn’t hesitate to muscle his way in; usually with one or two hearty growls he manages to take whatever object he desires. He’s a handsome guy with a blond mane sprouting from his wide head and just the hint of a dark mane on his throat and chest. His eyes are light brown with a gold tint that blends with his golden coat color. He looks so much like his older half brother Kamau, at times. When looking at Zawadi it is almost like looking back in time when Kamau was his age.

Laini and Ingozi inspect a colorfully wrapped treat.

Laini and Ingozi inspect a colorfully wrapped treat.

Oshana’s other boy, Ekundu, is the second heaviest of all the cubs at 170 pounds (77 kilograms). Like his brother, he also has a laid-back attitude, but instead of growling like Zawadi to get what he wants, Ekundu just uses his weight and is often seen flopping on top of another cub. Ekundu almost appears polite; when he finishes his meal before the cub next to him, he will walk away. When told by his keepers he is “all done,” he rarely pushes the other cubs away from their food.

My favorite Ekundu story happened a while ago. It was the first time Nyack, our hand-raised cub (see blog, New Cub Joins Lion Camp Pride) was allowed to have a rabbit with all the other cubs. Nyack walked into the large chute area with his rabbit in his mouth. All the other cubs were busy munching their rabbits and Nyack walked by each one cautiously. He came up to his best friend Ingozi; Nyack appeared to be proudly showing him his rabbit. Ingozi snarled and batted the rabbit out of Nyack’s mouth, put his paw over his new acquisition, and growled harshly at Nyack. Nyack seemed confused and frightened; he retreated to the end of the chute, huddled in the corner, and bellowed a low long cry over and over. Ekundu came out from an adjoining room and looked down the chute at Ingozi holding two rabbits and Nyack crying in the corner. Ekundu then strolled over to Ingozi and, quick as can be, snatched a rabbit away from Ingozi, marched it down the chute, dropped it right in front of Nyack, and then turned and walked away. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes I don’t think I would have believed it!

Ingozi pounces on a cardboard critter.

Ingozi pounces on a cardboard critter.

Next in Oshana’s litter is her daughter Tamu, the smallest of all the cubs, weighing 151 pounds (69 kilograms). She has a darker, ruddy coat color and an old scar circling her right eye, the remains of some squabble or misstep out on exhibit. She’s a voracious eater and a quick learner. Tamu attaches herself to toys and will hold on with claws, baring her teeth at whoever comes to investigate. She is often the victim of Ekundu’s body flops; he doesn’t seem too intimidated by her possessive snarls, and it often makes him more curious when she is defending some prize.

Oshana’s other daughter, Laini, is one of the biggest females, weighing in at 160 pounds (73 kilograms). She’s smart and very communicative. Laini will greet her keepers with a hearty snarl and hiss, only to offer intense focus when asked to cooperate with learning new behaviors. She’s a quick learner and will watch her trainer intently, waiting for her next cue. Although she is almost 10 pounds heavier than her sister, Tamu, they look so much alike we sometimes have to look them in the face to tell “who is who.” Laini is stubborn when asked to come down off one of the high benches and shift to another room, but cooperates quickly when asked at a training session.

At 168 pounds (77 kilograms), Mina’s daughter Sarabi is the heaviest of all the female cubs. Lighter, almost gray in color, her square jowls and slender muzzle make her look older than her one year. As a young cub she seemed like a “tough girl,” warning off the boys and greeting her keepers with a hiss and a snarl. As she’s gotten older, she doesn’t appear to be quite as brave. When new enrichment is placed in one of the rooms, she seems leery and usually waits for another cub to investigate before she moves in to check it out. Sarabi is more trusting and curious with her keepers and will approach, although cautiously, when a keeper presents an unusual item, usually to assist in training.

Mina’s other daughter Kaya weighs 160 pounds (73 kilograms). She’s light in color like her sister and shares the same medium brown eyes. Kaya seems like she has a busy mind, an independent thinker like her Aunt Oshana, often appearing to be more concerned with what another cub is doing instead of what she is doing. Kaya is bold with new objects and is often one of the first ones to explore new enrichment items. She is playful and will hoard bones, or especially good enrichment items, from the other cubs. When approached by another cub intent on taking a toy or bone away, Kaya can turn into a pure lioness, growling, snarling, and holding on with muscles and claws.

Ingozi is Mina’s only boy, weighing 165 pounds (75 kilograms); he is the second smallest of all the male cubs. He has a sweet, almost comical disposition. Ingozi is shorter in stature and has dark brown, wide-set eyes, giving him a gentle appearance. His right upper lip is often caught on his teeth, allowing the tip of his tongue to stick out between his lips. He is cooperative with his training but quite independent. Ingozi was the first cub introduced to Nyack (our hand-raised cub) and still will call out to him if Nyack is shifted into another room out of Ingozi’s sight. The two cubs often sleep next to each other.

Nyack is 163 pounds (74. kilograms); he is one month younger than the other cubs and yet weighs only 2 pounds (0.91 kilograms) less than his cousin, Ingozi. Nyack is one of the pride of cubs. He is quite independent and fits in well with all the cubs. His mane has been coming in dark and shaggy, yet he still has spots on his legs and his face. His head is long and narrower with almost a “Roman-type” profile. He has become very possessive of his food and will fight anyone who tries to take a taste. Nyack and Ingozi are almost constant companions, with Sarabi often found resting with them. Nyack seems quite taken with her and will walk in front of her, waving his favorite toy (an old phonebook) in an attempt to get her to follow him and play.

These cubs grow and change daily. What a fun experience it has been to observe this process. I can hardly wait to see what happen next!

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

Moderator’s note: We celebrated the first birthdays of all eight cubs on Tuesday, November 11. There was a frozen cake and other frozen treats for the cubs, as well as cardboard critters for them to play with, made by the Park’s Conservation Corps students. The next “party” for the cubs will be on Sunday, November 16. It is for the Conservation Corps; as they were unable to attend the festivities on Tuesday, we are having them come and place the rest of their enrichment animals on exhibit for the cubs. The keepers are going to add a few bloodsicles, too! It should all be happening around 9:30 a.m.