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Lion cubs are healthy, playful and a bit of a handful

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Zookeeper Pam Cox soothes a cub as it wakes up from its vet exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Can you believe the lion cubs are 2 months old now? The growing boys and girls (two of each) were due for another health checkup with the zoo’s veterinarians yesterday, and they aced their exams.

Zookeeper Matt Mills carries a cub to the exam table. He holds the cub just like its mother would and the cub is relaxed by the comforting position. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now weighing in at a healthy 21 to 23 pounds each, the wriggly quadruplets are getting harder to handle, so the cubs were anesthetized for parts of this latest checkup and round of blood draws and vaccinations.

A cub hisses at the immobilizer mask after it was removed. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

We took a look at their eyes…

Vets are looking for clarity and good response in the eyes. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

…and teeth…

Checking the teeth for growth. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

…and all looked good.

The next cub lines up for its exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Those teeth represent an important milestone for the cubs. They have all grown in most of their baby teeth, which means that they are starting to sample solid foods—delectable ground turkey and raw beef.

Vets feel around the cub’s stomach and hips. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our vets noticed that the cubs’ tummies feel less full than they did at their last exam, which is likely because now that they eat some solid foods, they aren’t filling themselves up on mom’s milk as much as they used to.

Curator Dr. Nancy Hawkes measures a cub from nose to tail to record the growth. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

We took some measurements of the cubs and all are growing on pace with what is expected of lions their age.

A cub hisses at the camera after returning to its den at the end of the exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

As the cubs awoke, the grogginess wore off and the personalities we’ve come to love began to emerge again. They were each returned to their den to rejoin their siblings and later mom Adia.

This photo, taken at the end of December, shows how the curious cubs are interested, yet always a bit cautious, about what’s happening around them. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The cubs are a playful, rambunctious foursome. They pounce all over mom, treating her tail as a plaything. They recently began playing with toys, and though at first a boomer ball was to them some strange monolith to be regarded with suspicion and caution, they soon figured out that if it rolls and can be chewed on, it’s not such a bad thing to have around.

That meat snack was lick-your-lips good. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

When you have a sizable litter, there’s always the concern that it can be a handful for mom, but 3-year-old mother Adia continues to do an excellent job with the kiddos. The little ones all seem to be sharing and bonding—they all eat, nap and play together as a family.

The four cubs getting along back in late December. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

All this growth is a positive sign that we can start planning for the cubs to make their debut when they are a little older and outdoor temperatures reach a minimum of 50 degrees. Until then, they’ll continue to live in an off-view maternity den where they can bond and develop in a more controlled environment.

These spotted markings are typical for lion cubs, and most adults grow out of them. You can still find faint spots on 3-year-old mom Adia, though. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We know the other thing you all are waiting for is to learn the names of these little ones! We’ll reach out to you all for your help in naming two of the cubs—details to come—and then we’ll have names for all four to announce in the near future. Stay tuned here for an announcement on the upcoming naming contest.

About African lions
The lions at Woodland Park Zoo belong to the South African subspecies, Panthera leo krugeri. Known as the Transvaal lion, it ranges in Southern Sahara to South Africa, excluding the Congo rain forest belt, in grassy plains, savanna and open woodlands. These lions range in weight from 260 to 400 pounds. Although not presently endangered, the future of African lions is uncertain, particularly as the growth in human population continues to impact lion populations.

Through our Wildlife Survival Fund, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project through the Lion Species Survival Plan Conservation Campaign. The project works in Tanzania to mitigate human conflict with lions and other large carnivores that share the Ruaha landscape, while collecting baseline data on lion populations to help shape lion and large carnivore conservation.

You can learn more about conservation issues and what is being done to help wildlife, wild places and the people who share these landscapes at


Anonymous said…
Great story! Such beautiful babies!!
Schyler Mason said…
Thanks for the photos, but I sure wish we could see them in person. Pt Defiance has their tiger cubs on view, such a treat to see them so small.
We hear ya, Schyler. We all want to see the cubs out there as soon as possible!

The lion exhibit has a sizable moat that could be a challenge to the cubs when they are especially small and developing their motor skills. That's been one of the biggest challenges for us, as well as the timing of their birth in the winter, putting us up against lower temperatures.

But we're working on some exhibit modifications as we speak, and with a little more time to let the cubs get just a bit bigger and hardier, we should be able to debut them soon.
I'm voting for Simba, Nala, Kiara, and Kovu LOL
Nowhere Girl said…
So cliche...

Btw, the cub in the first photo has absolutely HUGE ears.