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We have two prides of lions in Big Cat Falls. Our first pride is composed of two females, Zenda and Jezebel. Littermates, born at the Johannesburg Zoo on July 10, 1991 they arrived at the Zoo from South Africa in 1993.
Zenda: Tawny in color.
Jezebel: White in color, she was the first white lion exhibited in the United States. All white lions in captivity are believed to be descended from the white lions found only in the Timbavati Game Preserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
The second pride has one male, Makini, and one female, Tajiri.
Makini: Born at the Tulsa Zoo & Living Museum in Oklahoma on March 24, 2009, he arrived at the Zoo on December 16, 2011. His name means “dignity” in Swahili.
Tajiri: Born at the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin on March 16, 2010, she arrived at the Zoo on January 25, 2012. Her name means “rich” in Swahili.
First Niagara Big Cat Falls offers enrichment opportunities by design. Big cats can explore other cat habitats, pick up on the scents present, and mark territory. Boxes, piñatas, and scratching posts all make excellent enrichment toys. These are often sprinkled with scents to make it more interesting for the lions.
The lion habitat at Big Cat Falls is a fantastic viewing area. You can stand face to face with the lions behind a huge glass window. The lions like to lay and play near the window.
First Niagara Big Cat Falls
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African lions are normally tawny colored. For centuries, rumors of the mysterious white lion circulated South Africa. Legend had it that white lions would emerge from the bush only once every century to show their pure white coats, representing the good in all creatures. Scattered reports of their existence began in 1928 and continued over the next 47 years, until a litter containing two white cubs was seen at Timbavati Game Reserve, Africa in 1975. Timbavati lions are the only white lions known to be in existence. The white lion is not albino; it carries the recessive white gene. The unique genetic combination that results in a white lion is widely considered to be eliminated in the wild population today.
Like other cats, lions have excellent senses. Since they are primarily nocturnal (meaning most active at night) their night vision is six times greater than that of humans. Well-developed whiskers and other long stiff hairs above their eyes and on their underarms have nerve connections and are used for sensing. They also have a well-developed sense of smell which they use to communicate with other lions who mark their territory.
Two distinctive features set lions apart from all other wild cats; they are social felines (other cats are typically solitary in the wild) and they are the only cats to exhibit a distinction between males and females - males have a mane.
Another unique feature of lions is their tongues. They have short, horny backward pointing hooks on the upper surface which aids in grooming and for holding and lacerating food.
Lions are able to have cubs at around three - four years of age. Gestation is between three - four months. When lions are ready to give birth to their litter -- usually about three - four cubs -- they go off alone to a den isolated from the rest of the pride. Mother and cubs then return to the pride after approximately three months. Males guard the cubs while the females hunt, playing with them and teaching them life skills by wrestling. The cubs will participate in their first hunt when they are about 11 months old.
Depending on the pride, young males either leave or are driven out around age two. Young females usually remain with the pride unless the quantity of females becomes too large.
Lions are social animals that live in prides of between four and 37 cats. The pride usually consists of a core of four to 12 related adult females, their offspring and one to six adult males. In the pride, females do most of the hunting, when they work together to form an ambush.
Lions spend more than 80 percent of their time conserving energy. Conserving energy is important for animals that are big and bulky and that live in areas where getting food is challenging. As a result, lions spend up to 20 hours a day resting or sleeping.
Lions have nine distinct vocalizations including roars, grunts and growls. The position of their hyoid apparatus, a bone at the base of the skull, means lions can only purr when they exhale. Pride members also rub cheeks when they meet.
Males are about 4 feet (121 cm) and 8 feet (243 cm), not including the tail, which averages about 3 feet (91 cm) long.
Males weigh between 330 pounds (149 kg) and 550 pounds (249 kg) and females weigh between 130 pounds (58 kg) and 400 pounds (181 kg).
In Africa, the preferred prey of the lion is wildebeest, impala, zebras, buffalo and warthogs. At the Zoo, their diet includes a commercial raw meat mix, solid beef, beef shank bones and long bones. The diet is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of each animal. Beef long bones are offered once a week mainly to provide chewing activity. Beef shank bones have nearly 7 lbs (3kg) of meat attached to the bone; the lions enjoy tearing the meat from the bones. The shank bones not only provide food, they also provide an enjoyed activity for the animals while strengthening their jaw muscles.
Grassy plains, savannas, and semi-deserts throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa.
On the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the African Lion is listed as Vulnerable.
The Ongava Research Centre (ORC) is part of one of the largest private reserves in Namibia, covering 125 miles and sharing its northern boundary with Etosha National Park. The Zoo’s partnership with ORC began in 2010 in support of the conservation research project “Pride Dynamics and Dispersal in the Lion Population of Ongava Game Reserve.”
Learn more about African lion conservation efforts at Philadelphia Zoo.
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