Four African lion cubs born at National Zoo

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 1:10 PM

The National Zoo said Tuesday that one of its African lions has given birth to a litter of four cubs.

The cubs were born between 10:30 p.m. Monday and 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and since then have been active and apparently feeding.

"The National Zoo is thrilled that our captive management program for African lions is growing," said Dennis Kelly, the zoo's director. "After the sad loss of our . . . cub in May, these cubs symbolize hope for the zoo and for conservation programs. They will help build healthy, genetically diverse populations and contribute greatly to their species' survival."

The births come after the death in May of a 4-day-old cub that died from an infection after it inhaled a piece of hay that lodged in a lung.

Although the zoo has managed lions in the past, officials said it has been many years since the zoo had the right combination of animals by age and gender to reproduce. The parents of the four cubs are Shera, 5, and Luke, 4.

The zoo said the birth of the cubs marks the next step in building a pride, and keepers will slowly introduce the cubs to their relatives with the aim of eventually bringing all seven of its lions together.

Keepers are exercising more care with the cubs' bedding material.

"Since the unfortunate death of [the] cub, we've investigated various alternative bedding options," said Rebecca Stites, a lion and tiger keeper. "The use of bedding is imperative as it protects the cubs from trauma during the first fragile weeks of their lives. We've provided [the] . . . cubs with shavings and soft hay with as few seeds as possible."

"The formation of prides makes lions unique among the great cats, many of which are solitary animals," the zoo said in a written statement. "Hunting, disease and habitat loss have contributed to a decline in the population of African lions, which are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature."

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