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Philadelphia Zoo Debuts African Lion Cubs

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Philadelphia Zoo had announced four new members of its animal family: African lion cubs born to Tajiri, the Zoo’s 4-year-old female, during the early morning of Thursday, June 26th.

This is the first litter for Tajiri and 6-year-old male Makini, and marks the expansion of the pride in First Niagara Big Cat Falls. These are the first lion cubs born at Philadelphia Zoo since 1996, continuing the Zoo’s successful breeding of big cats over the past few years.

Mother and cubs are doing well. Like newborn humans, lion cubs are essentially helpless, relying on their mother for care. Tajiri has been in almost constant physical contact with her cubs since their birth, and appears confident and relaxed as a first-time mother. Zoo staff continues to monitor them by video camera during this crucial time, giving Tajiri almost complete privacy in her off-exhibit den.

“We’re very excited to welcome Tajiri’s new cubs, the first lions born at Philadelphia Zoo in 18 years,” says Kevin Murphy, Philadelphia Zoo’s General Curator. “We work with the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), whose goal is to manage populations of threatened, endangered and other species across AZA zoos, to maintain long-term genetic and demographic viability. This birth, Tajiri’s first, is a significant contribution to the lion population in the U.S., and we are cautiously optimistic as Tajiri continues to be a fantastic mother.”

The successful birth of Tajiri’s cubs further highlight the Zoo’s ‘Year of the Big Cat’. The ‘Year of the Big Cat’ launched with the May 2014 opening of Big Cat Crossing, and continues as the Zoo encourages guests to become ‘big cat heroes’ and help save these magnificent animals. Visitors will learn how their consumer choices and positive influence can protect big cats and other species by urging food, cosmetic and other companies to use 100 percent deforestation-free palm oil.

“We are thrilled about Tajiri’s healthy new cubs. Visitors to the Zoo will soon have the opportunity to see the next generation of this vulnerable species thrive here at the Zoo,” said Andy Baker, Chief Operating Officer.

Tajiri was treated in 2013 for blastomycosis, a fungal infection she contracted before she arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo. The blastomycosis fungus is not found in our area of the U.S., but is found in the soil in certain parts of the country (with Wisconsin, Tajiri’s former home, being one of those places) and on rare occasions can infect animals or people. Blastomycosis is contracted by inhaling the spores in the geographic areas of the country where the fungus is found. It is not transmissible from animal to animal or from animal to person; therefore, Tajiri did not represent a risk to other animals or people at our Zoo.

“Following months of treatment last year, we believe Tajiri made a full recovery,” says Dr. Keith Hinshaw, Philadelphia Zoo’s Director of Animal Health. “We will continue to be vigilant for any signs of a relapse, but we are very optimistic that this illness will not resurface in the future.”

African lions are vulnerable in the wild; habitat loss and conversion for agriculture have led to a decline in some population sizes. Philadelphia Zoo supports wild lions by partnering with the Ongava Research Centre (ORC), whose focus is on monitoring lions on Ongava Game Reserve, one of the largest private reserves in Namibia, to better understand how they form groups and how those groups expand and ultimately disperse.

The lion cubs’ public debut is not yet confirmed, but will not occur for approximately 3 months, when Tajiri and the cubs are ready to venture from the privacy of their den.

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