Pride Parents: Big cats welcome their little lions

Published on Friday, 31 January 2014 20:23 - Written by By Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

A new litter of African lion cubs has made its debut at the Caldwell Zoo.

Less than two weeks ago, five lion cubs were born to female African lion Njeri, which means “daughter of a warrior” in Kenyan, according to a news release. The father is Ayotunde, a name that in Yoruba means “joy has returned,” according to the release.

The mother and cubs, which weigh about 4 pounds, are in a den, where there are cameras for monitoring.

The litter originally had five cubs. However, one of the cubs died after birth, said Hayes Caldwell, executive director of the Caldwell Zoo.

So far, the four remaining cubs — one male and three females — are doing well, Caldwell said.

The male cub is named Doc after the late Dr. Steve Wilson, who served as senior veterinarian at the zoo. To name the female cubs, zookeepers will submit about a dozen names, and the zoo will let visitors and followers vote on it, Caldwell said. More information will be posted on Facebook.

Scotty Stainback, curator of mammals at the Caldwell Zoo, said the parents, who were bred in captivity, turn 3 years old in July and arrived at the Caldwell Zoo about a year ago. Njeri came from the Milwaukee County Zoo, while Ayotunde came from the Reid Park Zoo in Tuscon, Ariz.

Caldwell said the parents are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan program and were recommended as a good genetic pairing for breeding.

The gestation period for African lion babies averages between 100 and 110 days, Stainback said.

“Youngsters weigh 2 to 3 pounds at birth. Cubs appear rather wooly and have a coat with spots, which may remain through adulthood. By three months of age, the cubs are very mobile and will follow Mom wherever she goes,” a news release states.

Now, the mother can’t be disturbed too much, but good pictures have come from the monitor, Stainback said.

“They’ve done really well so far,” he said. “It gives us a chance to watch what’s going on.”

He said the cubs nurse on and off, and the mother stays in the den with them.

Stainback said the father will eventually be reintroduced to the pride, but it will be a slow process.

“In the wild, a pride would consist of a closed society of lionesses (usually related) and one to four males who must fight to maintain their positions in the pride,” the news release states.

Caldwell said the new family at Caldwell Zoo is “very exciting,” as it is the first litter of lion cubs that the zoo has had in more than 20 years.

He said it could be another four weeks before the cubs are on public display. For now, visitors can watch them on closed circuit TV.