Monday, August 31, 2015

Lion Cub Babies on the Way! - History of Our Lion Pride

So, yes!  Wonderful News that Our Sukari is pregnant!   I am really looking forward to this event. I missed out on seeing Jahari and Kimani for much of their growing up, and I regret that.  Seeing Skylar/Leanne's Cubs grow up has been one of the best experiences of my life.  

Its very curious that the Zoo announced this pregnancy.  I actually can't think of any others that they have.  There are ones as regular Visitors you will hear about, but most times, its pretty much a surprise.  You show up and hear about it.  For what reason the Zoo doesn't usually announce pregnancies, I'm not sure.  There are so many other Zoo's who not only do, but have viewers online waiting for births via webcams.

One thing I read in the announcement, via the Zoos Animail Newsletter, that really upset me, was the non-mention of our passed Tunya, as Sukari's original mate.  The Zoos spin version of facts is noted that Sukari came to the Zoo to form a Pride with Jahari and Amanzi.  

I feel like Our Tunya has again been disrespected by the Zoo.   So, I want to tell the History of Our Lions.  In doing so, you will also learn more about Sukari and her other babies, as well as GrandBabies.

In 1997, the Zoo acquired three Lion Cubs from South Africa.  Tunya and Amanzi arrived together and Kita joined them the following month.  Together they would form a pure line African Lion Pride.

Until the most recent Lion Studbook, I had been told they came from a breeding facility.  The later information puts Tunya and Kita as wild born and Amanzi as captive born.   I always wondered about them being so young when they arrived, all under six months old.  So, not only were these babies taken from their Mothers too early, Tunya and Kita were taken from the wild.  When I learned more about breeding facilities, I was sad for them.  When I learned two were taken from wild, I was even sadder, wondering what happened to their Mamas. 

The three lived together as a Family in Grotto D, where Snow Leopards are now.  I was so happy to meet them, my first Cubs. They were so fun to watch.  Kita once rolled a ball over to me as if to say, play with me.  I would have loved to played with them and envied the Keeper who I saw in with them regularly.  She would roll around on the ground with them, jumping all over her.  Loved them!   

Amanzi became pregnant, but sadly her babies didn't survive.  In 2003, Kita gave birth to four Cubs, two survived.  A fifth undetected and undelivered Cub, didn't make it and also claimed the life of Kita.  Her two babies, Jahari and Kimani, were hand raised.  Tunya never got to be a Daddy to them. He and Amanzi continued to live together.

When Jahari and Kimani reached maturity, they were separated and Kimani was housed with her Papa Tunya, and Jahari was paired with Amanzi.  This is where the disrespect of Tunya begins.  Tunya, not only loses one of the girls he grew up with, but also has Amanzi taken away from him.  In an effort to keep Jahari from being transferred to another Zoo, the Zoo decided to take his Papa's love away and put them together.  Jahari and Amanzi love each other, but on an emotional level, I just think this was a really awful thing to do.  I watched for years while inside the Lion House, Tunya look down that rooms to see Amanzi with Jahari.  he would just stare at her endlessly.  Even though he loved Sukari, he did this til his last day.  It was heartbreaking.

In 2010, the Zoo entered into a swap with the Tautphaus Park Zoo, Kimani for Sukari.  It was sad to see Kimani go, but Tunya would be getting an actual girlfriend :)   Although once I learned more about Sukari, I felt bad that she was being separated from her hubby there, Dahoma.  The way Animals are moved around inside and transferred out of Zoo's is often very sad.  I know they aren't thought of as emotional beings, but they are.  Especially if they are bonded pairs.  Don't even get me started on the Zoo's disrespect of the Duikers.  You can read about it at the link, if you're interested.

As I had done with most the Zoo Friends, I started my research on Sukari before she even got here. At Tautphaus Park Zoo, Sukari and Dahoma had two litters.  Each litter producing a Male and Female, in each one, only the Females survived.  Both were hand raised.  I don't know why.  M'fisha and Ahadi, both were sent to Omaha Zoo to join an established pair, Nala and (Mr) Big.   in 2012, sadly Nala passed.  In 2013, Sukari became a Grandma for the first time, when M'fisha gave birth to five Cubs.  In Fall of 2014, Ahadi gave birth to three Cubs.

My research even uncovered something that the Keepers and Animal Management Staff didn't know. Our Amanzi and Sukari were Half Sisters, sharing a Mama, Angie who at 20 years old, is still living at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Sukari's Papa was Elson, who was well known for being a wonderful Father.  Sadly he passed several years ago.   Another Family connection.  Big, the Father of Sukari's GrandBabies is Amanzi's Brother from a different Father.  

I used to make themed Zoo Friend themed hats and did one to celebrate this connection between Our two Beautiful Girls!

I remember there being a delay in the transfer and it was longer than the month of quarantine that Tunya had to wait.  He was so sad being alone.  It was heartbreaking.  I remember one time talking to him in the Lion House and telling him about his new girlfriend.  He looked at me so intent.  I blew him kisses and he tilted his head back and made a chuffing sound, like he was sending kisses back.  

When Sukari was finally out on exhibit, I was so excited to see her and so happy that Tunya had finally got his girlfriend.  ...  She was so shy.  When the Lion House was open, most often she would be in the back hiding.  It took months for her to finally be comfortable.  

In early 2011, just a few months after her arrival, myself and my friend Lee started making Enrichment Toys to the Big Cats.  Those Toys were instrumental in helping Sukari feel comfortable. For the first several months, she wouldn't come out at all.  The Toys just sat in her room, while everyone else played.  She got into them once the Lion House was closed.  One time I saw out of the corner of my eye, her reach out, grab one and pull it into the back.  It was so funny, but great that she took that step.  When her Birthday came up, we had a huge party for all the Big Cats.  Sukari would sit in the tunnel that led from the Lion House to the Yard.  I suggested to Keeper Barb that we put her Cake at the tunnel door, so when the door was opened, she would see it before she ran off.  Knowing it was there, she would come back.  It worked exactly how I thought!

SO, unlike the spin story from the Zoo, Sukari didn't come to the SFZoo to be a part of a Pride with Jahari and Amanzi, she came to be with Tunya.  

Please view this sweet Video I made of my Tunari :)

This pregnancy really is a near miracle.  We were almost destined to never have Lion Cubs.  In 2010 after Sukari had been here for awhile, then Keeper Debbie Marin, witnessed Tunya and Sukari mating. She made a call that ended with the pair being separated and Sukari being implanted with birth control.
They put Tunya with an uncontracepted female, what did they expect was going to happen?  Its not like they weren't mating when no one was watching.  

The details surrounding this action (as told to me), were based on old information that was never updated in the records. 

So, her action left Tunya alone again for months while the implant took.  He went on a semi hunger strike, lost weight, and sat separated by fencing, crying out for her. As well, it ended any chance he had of ever being able to be a Daddy to Cubs. It also, until now, almost ended our Lions genetic line.

Both Amanzi and Kimani had been implanted, at least six years ago, and neither has become pregnant to date.   The birth control is supposed to be yearly.  Probably to move forward with breeding if the SSP gives a recommendation, which is decided annually.  After several years had passed and none of our females had become pregnant, I asked if that was common.  I was told that so far, on the birth control that was being used in US Zoos, in over four years only one had become pregnant.  I researched this on my own again last year, and found nothing.  Coincidentally this article came out recently.

Back to the issue that is, why they didn't want Sukari and Tunya to breed.   I mentioned that I was told it was based on old information, that said, the old information, didn't even make sense.  There were two reasons given, Tunya had been diagnosed with a disorder to his neck (I believe), and they weren't sure if it was hereditary.  By 2010, it was determined that it was not hereditary and Jahari was cleared to breed.  So, if it wasn't hereditary, then there was no reason Tunya couldn't breed as well. Therefore, there was no need to separate and implant Sukari.  I then heard a ridiculous excuse that by breeding, Tunya could injure himself.  If he and Sukari were housed together they were going to mate. If that action could harm him, then what were they doing all these years housing him with females?   Allowing a pregnancy, was not going to harm him.

When Tunya passed in 2012, in an untimely and curious death, that left Sukari alone. Jahari had a breeding recommendation and for a short time prior, the Zoo had been introducing him to Sukari. Something I didn't think was a good idea.  Having Jahari's scent on her, and then putting her back in with Tunya, I didn't think was very considerate of his feelings, but then the Zoo doesn't care about such things.  I've witnessed Tunya pining for Amanzi for years, and again when he was separated from Sukari.  He has feelings.  All the Animals do.  

The good thing to come from that introduction was it was one step closer to being able to introduce Sukari to Amanzi and create a Pride between the three.  Thankfully Our Amazing Amanzi welcomed Sukari and with Jahari they became a Family.

Now, with this birth, Tunya's genetic line will continue to grow :)  I have always been sad that Amanzi never got to be a Mama, now hopefully she will get to be an Auntie and these two Precious Ladies can raise the Cubs together :)

Name suggestions.  Tunya.  Elson.  Kita.  Cecil.   I love names that have a meaning.  Unfortunately the Zoo will probably auction off the names and they will end up with unfitting names.

PS  After writing my name choices (which I've had since first hearing of impending Cubbies), I went looking to see if the Cubs from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo had been named.  They have!  Good to see names that mean something.  Boma, Aslan, and Elsa.  When I heard Elsa, named in honor of her GrandPapa Elson, I started to sob.  So wonderful that Elson will live on through her.  ...  Their Mama Lomela is also the Daughter of Angie, making her Sister to Sukari and Half-Sister to Amanzi.  Here is a link to an article about them, including a mention of the birth control issue with Lomela.


  1. Thank you for telling the true story of our lions. I am excited about cubs as Sukari will be an excellent mother. I miss Tunya every day and the disrespect he received by those in his care.

  2. I really enjoy reading the history and these new births are a joy. Thank you for mentioning Big and Nala, I miss them dearly. To some extent, I think that zoos tend to sanitize the experience for those in attendance but it makes it harder for those of us that want to keep track of those we care about. As sad as it is (and for the conservation of species in the wild), for the general public, the zoo is an entertainment value for which the zoos have to cater. Omaha Zoo does amazing conservation and even sustainable living work in such places as Madagascar but precious few people know about it.


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