Friday, August 31, 2007

Virginia Zoo's African lions are new parents

At least two lion cubs were born at the Virginia Zoo on Saturday to Zola and Mramba. Zola, the mother, was in a dense vegetation area of the exhibit Tuesday, protecting her cubs.

By DEBBIE MESSINA, The Virginian-Pilot
© August 22, 2007

Worry turned to elation at the Virginia Zoo when keepers had trouble finding the lioness in her exhibit over the weekend, then discovered not only Zola but at least two lion cubs nesting outdoors in a briar patch against a rock.

Zookeepers were not aware that the African lion was pregnant by exhibit-mate Mramba. She showed no obvious signs.

"We were astounded," keeper Charlene Wright said.

Because mom is young - she just turned 3 last month - the cubs have a 50 percent chance of surviving, zoo director Greg Bockheim said.

Lionesses reach sexual maturity at age 3, so keepers didn't expect Zola to become pregnant even though she and Mramba had been "practicing" for nearly a year. Keepers had been training her to prepare for ultrasound exams, however.

Mother and cubs appear to be doing fine, but no one has been able to get close to the new family. Zoo staff are not even certain how many cubs were born.

Litters of two to three are most common. Baby lions typically weigh in at 3 pounds.

The cubs will live at the zoo for a year or more before being sent to other zoos to breed.

Debbie Messina, (757) 446-2588,


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