BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL The Oklahoman
Published: January 15, 2010
The four lions born two years ago at the Oklahoma City Zoo will leave next week for their new home in El Paso, Texas.
The cubs will be transported Tuesday or Wednesday to the El Paso Zoo, where they will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit of African animals.
Each cub weighed about 3 pounds at birth, and they’ve grown to more than 300 pounds now. The siblings were hand-raised by zoo staff and are a favorite among visitors, Assistant Zoo Director Brian Aucone said.
“We’re happy that they’re going to a great new facility, but there is such an interesting and unique history,” Aucone said. “There is some sorrow of them leaving.”
The cubs are moving as part of the Species Survival Plan, a national cooperative breeding and management effort among zoos that monitors the African lion population. The cubs are not recommended to breed any time soon, Aucone said, but they are moving to El Paso because of the new exhibit there.
The four lions will be put in individual crates and transported by truck, Aucone said. The lions will be given medicine to ease anxiety but likely will be awake for most of the ride, he said.
When the lions arrive in El Paso, they will live in their new habitat which opens to the public on March 13, said Rick LoBello, education curator for the El Paso Zoo.
The Oklahoma City lions will be the centerpiece of a nine-acre, $17 million Africa exhibit featuring zebras, meerkats, giraffes and other animals.
“They’re going to be the highlight of the new entrance of the zoo,” LoBello said.
LoBello said he and his staff are grateful to receive the Oklahoma City lions. Many Oklahomans came to the El Paso Zoo last month because of the Sun Bowl, when the Oklahoma Sooners defeated Stanford. He hopes more Oklahomans will visit to see the lions again.
Excitement is building in El Paso, said Renee Neuert, executive director of the El Paso Zoological Society. Zoo memberships are up, and officials predict an increase in attendance this year.
“We’re all excited,” she said. “This is really wonderful for our community and our citizens.”
The four lion cubs were born under an unusual set of circumstances in November 2007. The male lion, Aslan, was brought to the Oklahoma City Zoo to breed with females Tia and Bridget.
Aslan showed little interested in breeding, and zookeepers eventually discovered a shard of bone stuck in his teeth, like a piece of popcorn kernel. A dentist removed the shard, and Aslan mated with both females the next day.
Both females were pregnant at the same time, each delivering a pair of cubs only two days apart. Oddly enough, both lionesses had difficult deliveries, and both required emergency cesarean sections.
Zoo staff had to hand-raise the cubs. They bottle fed the four until the lions were too large for keepers to be safe.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org