Photos by: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
NOTE: While this is the story of the cubs’ first steps outside, please note that the cubs are not yet on view. Access to the lion exhibit viewing shelter is currently closed to visitors while introductions take place. We expect to open the space to visitors in the very near future, and will announce here when the cubs are ready for their public debut. Thanks for your patience and your help in giving the family the space they need right now to grow comfortable and confident in their outdoor home.
Adia came through a doorway hidden behind a rocky wall and entered the outdoor exhibit Friday morning with a tiny tag-along by her side.
The cubs had their very first chance to explore their outdoor exhibit yesterday. Leading up to the big day, keepers debated whether the cubs would be cautious and slow to emerge, or come bounding out with confidence. The answer came quickly when one, then two little heads emerged alongside mom as she stepped outside.
Adia took a quick duck back into the indoor den as if to gather the others, and before we knew it, four cubs were outside within moments. So much for the shy start some of us anticipated.
They took in the sights and smells. The yard was littered with cub bait: mossy logs, muddy pits, and sticks for playing.
The cubs were most interested in taking it all in, and staying close to each other and mom on this first big adventure.
It didn’t take long before the cubs noticed the lucky few of us perched at the viewing window documenting their first day out. The zoo’s photographer snapped away while I took notes, and though we tried to keep our distance as mere observers, we quickly found ourselves becoming a part of the story as the cubs crept closer to watch us.
Adia kept her eye on us as well, and we got the distinct sense that the tolerance she was showing us for the moment was not at all something we should count on. We backed up in deference. Nothing like a momma lion to put you in your place.
The cubs eventually lost most of their interest in us when we failed to do anything all that interesting. They turned their attention back to their favorite toy—mom.
I lost count of how many times the cubs pounced on mom in the first 30 minutes alone. Adia couldn’t get two steps without a cub slipping under foot or jumping on her back. The cubs exercise a predatory instinct in their style of play, with lots of pounce attacks and mouthing and biting. They’d come at mom paws- and teeth-first, and practically ride around on her back or neck, wherever they could get a grip.
They played with each other as well, some casual romping and rolling.
The cubs were easily distracted from their games. A plane flew overhead, birds cawed nearby, and all at once the cubs seemed to realize they could look up and take in a whole new part of the world above them.
To cub-proof the exhibit, we erected a large fence across the middle of the yard, blocking off access to the watery moat and sloping hills that could pose a risk to the still growing cubs. They didn’t seem to take much notice of the fence at first, and then all of a sudden, it was like it was the only thing they could see—until the next thing caught their eyes. It’s a thrill to watch how quickly and intensely their attention diverts to each new discovery!
This first session went on for around two hours. The doors remained open to the family to come back inside to their den whenever they were ready. Two cubs were the first to head back in, and when Adia followed them to keep tabs, the other two went along. Keepers closed the doors at that point so we could review how the session went and make plans for any changes to the yard before they’d get to go out again. The cubs were so tuckered out from the experience; taking a break inside was exactly what they needed.
The cubs will continue to have these little private practice sessions before making their public debut, hopefully within the next week. For now, the lion viewing shelter is closed off from the public to allow the family space as they adjust to the outdoors. You’ll find yourself rerouted around the area for the time being, but we’ll announce when they are ready for visitors very soon!
Want to show your lion cub love? Adopt a lion cub through the current ZooParent spring adoption special and your gift will support the care of the cubs and animals across the zoo.
$5 from each ZooParent adoption go directly to support conservation field efforts, like the Ruaha Carnivore Project working in Tanzania to mitigate human conflict with lions and other large carnivores that share the Ruaha landscape. Support for the Ruaha Carnivore Project comes from the zoo’s Wildlife Survival Fund, working with the Lion Species Survival Plan Conservation Campaign. 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 http://www.zoo.org/conservation.