Q&A on Sacramento’s pride: Zoo’s lion cubs celebrate first birthday

Three lion cubs born a year ago at the Sacramento Zoo will celebrate their birthday Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, with an ice cake flavored with meat drippings.
Three lion cubs born a year ago at the Sacramento Zoo will celebrate their birthday Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, with an ice cake flavored with meat drippings.

Three lion cubs born a year ago at the Sacramento Zoo will celebrate their birthday this weekend with an ice cake flavored with meat drippings.

That’s yummy stuff for the pride of Sacramento.

The cubs, growing strong and healthy, will party along with their parents at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. In addition, this week the zoo at Land Park Drive and Sutterville Road is expected to have its 500,000th visitor for 2015, a lucky turnstile turner who will receive zoo swag and a free Sacramento Zoo membership.

Tonja Candelaria, public relations coordinator for the zoo, answered some questions about the furry trio on their first birthday:

Q: How is the pride is doing?

A: The pride is doing very well. The cubs are still growing and have now reached over 100 pounds each (making them heavier than our adult female jaguar).

Q: Are their parents good with them?

A: They are very good with them. Mom and dad are still teaching them everything they need to know to be a good lion. While playing with their parents the cubs can often be seen ‘stalking’ their prey. If you are lucky, you will catch them trying out their vocalizations.

Q: How long will they spend as a family at our zoo?

A: They will spend between two and three years at the Sacramento Zoo. The Sacramento Zoo participates in the Lion Species Survival Plan Program. When the cubs are developmentally ready, they will be moved to accredited zoos. After that, the Sacramento Zoo will probably not breed these lions again.

(From the zoo’s website: In the wild, after male cubs age, they would not be tolerated by the rest of the group. They would then move out of their family group, forming bachelor groups until they create or join a pride as a breeding male. Female cubs tend to stay in their natal pride or move with sisters to another pride. That female bond is very strong.)

Q: Any interesting things happen during the year with the cubs?

A: For us, everything that they do is fascinating. The social dynamics of lions and how they raise their offspring together is different than any other cat. Males of all other species of cat are not involved in the rearing of offspring. Seeing the cubs share the large rock with their father, tug on his mane or chase after his tail is fascinating to watch.

Q: What are the family dynamics?

A: They have been happily doing what lions do best under the watchful eye of their parents. However, mom and dad are still very good about putting them in their place when they need to and making sure that the cubs understand the hierarchy that is natural to lions. When it comes to toys and treats it goes dad, mom and then the cubs.

Q: When is the best time to view the cubs?

A: They still sleep 18 to 20 hours a day, which is natural for lions. Guests who arrive at the zoo when it first opens are often treated to the sight of very energetic lions. That is when a lot of the play happens, chasing each other, tumbling around and chewing on sticks.

Q: What are the ingredients of the birthday cake?

A: The ice cake will be layers of meat drippings diluted with water; frozen, colored water; and diced fish. They will also have some boxes dressed up as gifts scattered around the exhibit so that there is enough for everyone to share. As with all of their enrichment and food, it has been approved by our veterinarians.

Q: Can you explain why we don’t name the lions?

A: The lions do in fact have names! The male cub is named DeMarcus and the females are Inara and Saphira. The names were chosen by the primary carnivore keepers that work with and care for the lions on a daily basis. Mom is Cleo and dad is Kamau. We waited until the keepers had familiarized the cubs with their names and had started working on training.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews