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Lion Pride

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s lions have a peculiar backstory. While our adult females were raised in a zoo pride, our adult males have had a bit of a journey to get to us. Their parents were gifted to the sheik of Qatar as cubs. Unfortunately, they bred too young and the female died in labor. Seeing that they needed special care by people with knowledge of their dietary and health needs (let alone the facilities to house them – lions make terrible house guests!), he gave them to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and they were eventually placed here at Wildlife Safari. Their genes are invaluable because they are the first in their line to breed in captivity – a rarity since we never remove animals from the wild for captive breeding. Our boys were paired with Mtai and Serafina, our two adult females. Since the girls came to us from a mother raised pride setting, they understand natural pride dynamics.

Sisters Serafina and Mtai

Sisters Serafina and Mtai – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are unique in that they are the only cats that live in a social group. All other cats are solitary. In a pride, there is typically one dominant breeding male lion. But since Tsavo and Enzi didn’t understand this, Mtai is most often the dominant lion in our unique pride. We are fortunate that all four of our adult lions have bred. They paired off nicely with Mtai and Tsavo having a litter of two, Arnold and Sharptooth, while Serafina and Enzi had a litter of four, Upepo, Dunia, Moto, and Maji. Our adults are all 4 years old and our cubs are just approaching their 2nd birthday.

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Play time for the cubs – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions in captivity can live up to 20 years old, but they only reach about 10 in the wild. Males especially live shorter lives because of their aggression and hierarchy. In a pride setting, there’s one dominant breeding male and supporting non-breeding males. The females of the pride are all related, which is thought to help with hunting. Females are responsible for feeding the pride.

Lions are the 2nd largest cat, Siberian tigers are the first. Male lions can weigh up to 550 lbs and females up to 350 lbs. Males have a mane that protects their jugular when they are fighting. Since they will aim for the throat in a fight, it helps to have a thick matt of hair to shield them.  The dark coloration in their mane is directly correlated to their levels of testosterone. More testosterone means a darker mane which attracts more females and warns other males of their “toughness”.

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Adult males Tsavo and Enzi soak up the sunshine – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are very vocal animals, especially when there is food present. Because they live in such a social setting, their grumbles and growls are a way of telling each other that “no, this is mine”. Lion’s can’t really make any of the noises that we associate with being a “happy cat”, like purring and meowing.

In a pride, it’s the female’s job to hunt and provide food. They tend to stalk prey up to 100 ft and then sprint to catch them, usually tackling and killing with a suffocating bite to the neck. Females are built more slender and agile for stalking and hunting while males are broad and muscular for defending the pride against competing males. Because of the unpredictability of hunts, they tend to gorge whenever they can because they don’t know when their next meal will be. Lions can engorge themselves up to 60 lbs of meat at a time. At Wildlife Safari, we break up that amount into more manageable portions along with two fast days to allow their gut bacteria to balance out.

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Curious cubs – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are nocturnal and sleep up to 19 hours a day. They can breed year round and females start cycling when they are 18 months to 2 years old. However, like many species, this cycling starts before their bodies are fully grown, so  it is unsafe for them to breed for a while. It is very difficult to tell when a female is pregnant without doing an ultrasound or an x-ray.

Lions are altruistic, meaning females in a pride may take care of cubs that aren’t hers, they also tend to sync their cycle and give birth at the same time. So females are usually all lactating at the same time and can nurse all the cubs in the pride.

All lions are born with spots called “rosettes” that fade as they grow older. These are not true spots, like those in cheetahs and tigers. So if you were to shave a cub, the spots would not grow back. Whereas if you shaved a cheetah or tiger, their patterns would still show on their skin. Female cubs stay within the pride for the rest of their lives while male cubs are usually kicked out by the dominant male by the time they are 2. They then form a “bachelor band” until they are large enough to take over another pride.

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The young boys, Arnold and Upepo, lounging around – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are listed as Vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because they are declining alarmingly in the areas between protected National Parks. As human population expands and causes overgrazing and prey decline, lions will turn to livestock as a food source. This puts them in conflict with farmers, who may set traps in an attempt to keep their livestock safe. Although lions reproduce relatively quickly, the killing outstrips the lions’ ability to replenish their numbers.

Our lions are ambassadors for their species that help teach the public about lion conservation and human conflict with wildlife. If you’d like to meet our lion pride up close, we have private encounters every day. Although lions are able to tolerate high temperatures, our cubs actually love the cool Oregon winter weather. Come watch them play!

Wildlife Safari's most recent cub, Kitwana

Big Plans for a Little Cub

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari has one of the most successful cheetah breeding programs in the world, with 190 cheetahs born at the park. Meet Number 190! His name is Kitwana (Swahili for ‘pledged to live’) and he was born last month. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t producing milk for him. When it became clear that the mother cheetah was not going to be able to care for him, keepers stepped in to hand raise him.

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

For the next 3 weeks or so, Kitwana’s keepers bottle fed him every 2-4 hours, including night feedings, which meant lots of zoo sleepovers! After watching him grow in size, ability, and personality, Kitwana was moved to another facility so that he could have brothers and sisters to grow up with. He found his new home at Cincinnati Zoo when there was a litter born not long after him that also needed to be hand raised.

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers - all tuckered out after a feeding

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers – all tuckered out after a feeding

Sarah Roy, Carnivore and Cheetah Supervisor talks about how arrangements were made for Kitwana (nicknamed Kit) to go to his new home. “We work closely with the 7 other breeding centers in North America and were able to pin point another litter,” she says. “That way he could have litter mates and grow up in a social setting.”

Cross-fostering, as it is called when they place a cub with another litter in this way, has been successful in the past. Sometimes cross-fostering is possible with a mother raised litter, but can also be done with a litter of cubs being hand raised, like in Kitwana’s case.

 

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

If it is not successful for Kitwana, then he may become an ambassador instead, going out into the community with his keepers to teach people about cheetahs. “Ambassadors are, in a way, just as important as breeding cheetahs,” says Roy. “The ambassadors are out there meeting people and kids everywhere, spreading the word of how cool cheetahs are and why we need to save them.”

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Keepers work closely with their animals, but there is an even stronger bond formed in a hand raising situation. But keepers know what it takes to work in conservation, and there are times when you need to say goodbye to an animal to see it goe where it is needed. Whether it needs to go somewhere to grow up happier, or leave to join another breeding program, it can be a bitter sweet feeling for the staff involved. Roy has worked in the cheetah breeding program and is very used to situations Kitwana’s. “It’s hard, he’s the sweetest little boy, but I think looking at the big picture we’re happy to see them go to a good situation that will help the cheetah program as a whole.”

Lions enjoying the birthday celebrations - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Lion Cubs First Birthday Party

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

Last week Wildlife Safari celebrated Arnold and Sharptooth’s birthday! The first lion cubs to be born at Wildlife Safari in 23 years, these two are very special and this year has flown by!

Two of our 6 lion cubs - Arnold and Sharptooth

Two of our 6 lion cubs – Arnold and Sharptooth

The cubs had a party complete with snack filled presents and a pinata shaped like a water buffalo. More than 65 guests came to see them for the occasion, and while Arnold was a little wary of his presents, his smaller cousins had a blast!

Lions enjoying the birthday celebrations - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Lions enjoying the birthday celebrations – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz


In true lion style, each one claimed their own present - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

In true lion style, each one claimed their own present – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz


The adult females particularly enjoyed the paper mache water buffalo - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

The adult females particularly enjoyed the paper mache water buffalo – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz