Three lion cubs are delighting Sacramento Zoo visitors as they venture into their outdoor enclosure for the first time.
The cubs, born Oct. 24, are under the watchful eye of their mother, who keepers say is a wonderful parent. The two female cubs and one male have begun exploring their outside exhibit area where they play before collapsing into nap time.
Zookeepers will continue introducing the father lion to the cubs off-exhibit to create a solid family unit. The cubs and the mother are not yet on regular exhibit, but when they are outside, the felines have been real attention-grabbers.
“Everyone seems really thrilled to see babies,” said Lara Kirkendall, zoo outreach coordinator. “Of course, it’s nice to have them during the holiday season when people are out of school and off work. It gives people another reason to visit the zoo.”
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The cubs cavort a lot outdoors in the morning, usually their most rambunctious time. They run around, get tired and plop down.
“Even mom gets tired because she is such a good mom,” said Kirkendall. “She doesn’t just sit and watch them, she follows them around the exhibit, chasing after them to make sure they are fine.”
Sometimes they nap inside out of sight. However, the other day, the cubs sacked out in the middle of the outside exhibit when they got tired.
At night they sleep inside with mom, a lioness who has taken her motherly role very seriously.
“She is very protective, she nurses well, she follows them around and she grooms them,” said Kirkendall.
Mother lion also calls to her charges when the trio is outside, sounding a low barking sound to make sure they stay nearby. They come when called by her.
The last time the zoo had a lion cub was possibly in the 1980s, said Kirkendall.
One of the cubs is much more bold than the other two, but all three exhibit “rough and tumble” characteristics.
The father of the cubs has seen the brood but not yet been physically introduced to them. Eventually, the whole pride will be together on exhibit regularly.
Lions are regionally endangered in West Africa and an estimated 42 percent of major lion populations are declining, according to the zoo. Kirkendall noted that not everyone can take a trip to Africa to see a lion.
“At your local zoo, you can witness the majesty of these animals right in your own backyard,” she said.
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.