May 24, 2010

Zoo's lion cubs --- Badu and Zuka -- debut

Racine Zoo's two-month-old lion cubs peer out Thursday morning

UPDATE, May 29:  (African) Drum Roll Please….

The Racine Zoo has given its two Transvaal lion cubs names with an African theme, paying homage to their heritage. The male cub is Badu and the female is Zuka. The names were chosen by the Zoo’s carnivore specialists from 683 submitted entries. Connor Becker, 9, submitted the name Zuka, while Ellen Billman, 29, submitted Badu.  They each received a gift basket.

    “We were thrilled with the number of entries and the thought so many people put into their submissions.  They were looking for names that would live-on with the cubs as they will someday move to other zoos,” said Jay Christie, Zoo president. The names were announced Saturday as part of the “Baby Shower” in honor of the cubs. Today is the first day the cubs are available for viewing by the general public.

UPDATE, May 27: Once again, the Zoo tried to show off its two new lion cubs, this time with mixed success. The cubs got as far as the doorway into their display cage in the Zoo's Vanishing Kingdom main building this morning -- but would not go any farther.

Nonetheless, the Zoo is confident they'll be ready for their debut tonight, at a members-only event that will be attended by at about 750 people. Animal care specialist Theresa Donarski said the lions are more active in the afternoon -- and they'll also be hungry for the fresh hamburger zookeepers have put out.

Although they're only two months old, Donarski said there are clear personality differences between the two cubs. "The female is more vocal, sassy; she's more adventurous and goes after the meat first. The boy is more relaxed and follows his sister." Donarski can tell the two apart instantly; she says the female is darker. Both cubs, she says, take after their parents, Elsa and Aslan, both in coloration and temperament.

The cubs each weigh about 9.6 kilograms (21 pounds).

"We really enjoy them," Donarski said. But she made clear they're not just large kittens. When zookeepers have to pick up the cubs, they wear thick leather gloves because the cubs have big teeth. "They're not tame, even though they've been around people since their birth." 

The members event takes place tonight, Thursday, May 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The cubs go on public display Saturday.

Original post:

The Racine Zoo has a problem: An over-protective mother.

Mom is Elsa, the lion, so this could get serious.

The zoo is planning a "baby shower" in honor of Elsa and Aslan's two cubs, born March 16. The party will be Saturday, May 29, starting at 10 a.m. when the cubs first go on public exhibit.  Party festivities are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and will conclude at 2:30 with the announcement of the cubs' names.

If Elsa cooperates, that is. So far, the Zoo has tried to separate Elsa from her cubs on three separate occasions, to let local newspaper, web and TV journalists in to take their picture. No luck. (Picture at right is as close as I got.) Despite piles of fresh hamburger placed outside, Elsa has refused to leave the cubs alone. Zookeepers even had trouble separating her from the cubs for a visit from the veterinarian. Although keepers managed to get Elsa into a separate cage -- where she could see the cubs through the bars -- she was agitated and upset. It was a quicker-than-usual vet visit, because no one wants to upset mother.

But back to the "baby shower." Families visiting the lion cubs Saturday are asked to donate a new baby care item -- in return for one free admission for each group. The donations will be given to local charities that support children.

“We hope that Elsa cooperates with our plan. We know the public is anxious to meet the Pride of Racine," said Jay Christie, president of the Zoo. "We will have extra staff to remind spectators to be quiet as the noise associated with the crowd could make her tentative; they will also escort a limited number of people to rotate by the exhibit to see the pride.”

Picture taken about a month ago, by Zoo staff

The party will feature O & H Danish Bakery cake, games for children and activities to entertain Zoo guests as they wait in line to see the cubs, whose exhibit will be inside the Vanishing Kingdom historic main building.

The cubs’ names will be announced by Christie and Tom Mahoney, president of Johnson Bank. So far, the Zoo has received over 500 emailed entries to the Name-the-Cubs contest, plus an as-yet-uncounted number turned in directly to Johnson Bank. The contest ended today; the cubs' names will be selected by the Zoo's animal care staff -- but don't expect any silly or purely local names to make the cut. Naming a lion is serious business, especially when one realizes that the full-grown cats will probably be given to some other Zoo in two years, as was done with Elsa and Aslan's previous four cubs: Jabari, Kwame, Bomani and Kya. The Zoo works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species. Each member manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and sustaining population. 

Elsa and Aslan's last litter went on exhibit in December 2007 -- and a large crowd waited in the cold to see them. "With hopes of great weather this weekend," said Megan Frazer, the Zoo's special events manager, "we are expecting a large crowd, so activities to help pass the time" are scheduled.

After Saturday's party, the cubs will continue to be exhibited daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The Zoo's hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children 3-15, and free for children under 3.