Birmingham Zoo Has 5 lion cubs
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Birmingham Zoo’s new royal family is almost ready to meet its subjects.
The zoo’s five newborn lions will join their parents on exhibition in the predator hall Labor Day weekend. In keeping with the lion’s legendary status as “king of the beasts,” events that weekend will have a “royal” flavor. Zoo officials plan a “red carpet” treatment for the animals and their visitors, complete with crowns for kids, face painting and information on lion conservation.
Part of the festivities will be a contest to name a 3-month-old male lion who weighs about 24 pounds. Visitors to the zoo can get a look at the lion and suggest names through the weekend in a ballot box, with a winner announced Sept. 12.
The other lions are the females — 21-pound Lily, 19-pound Asha and 21-pound Kimba — and the 21-pound male, Vulcan. They were born May 25 to their mother Akili, and Kwanzaa, the zoo’s male lion. Lion litters typically range from a single cub to four, but two is the norm. Zoo officials are working to see if the five-cub litter is the largest in an American zoo.
Male lions can grow to between 400 to 500 pounds, while females can reach 300 pounds. Keepers usually differentiate between the animals by recognizing size or personality, but both can change rapidly with young animals.
So how do keepers tell the five apart? Mammal Curator Marcia Riedmiller said there are several ways. Each cub has a microchip with identifying information placed beneath the skin between their shoulder blades. The chip is similar to those used by dog owners to keep up with their pets and can be scanned to identify them. The keepers also shave the base of Asha’s tail and the middle of Kimba’s tail as a way of telling them apart. Lily has a lighter shade of fur.
At 12 weeks of age, the cubs are still “toddlers” by lion standards, not quite coordinated and prone to occasionally falling. They have short attention spans and tend to stick close to their mother, who remains very protective.
Dealing with five new children can be a chore for any first-time mother, let alone the father. Riedmiller said the cubs spend time jumping on Akili, pulling her tail and biting her.
“She tolerates it,” she said. “When they do that to their father, he’s not too sure.” Kwanzaa may not be used to a big family yet, since he was an only child, she said.
The cubs are also playful, as they will sneak up on each other and pounce. Riedmiller said this behavior is actually the young lions learning to stalk.
“In the wild, they would be learning to compete for food,” she said.
The lions will join the exhibit beginning Friday, Sept. 2. The zoo will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Saturday through Monday will be the last of the zoo’s extended weekend hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.