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Category — Animal Sciences

John the Lion Meets His Match

Zoo guests may have noticed that John the lion has not been in his yard for the past couple of days. He’s been absent for a very good reason! On Wednesday, we opened the doors that separated John and Imani and introduced the male and female lions to each other for the first time!

John and Imani

John and Imani

This introduction has been a long time coming; several months of close monitoring and careful preparation have led up to this big moment for our young lions. For the last year, John and Imani have been living in separate enclosure areas. Typically John was housed in 2 indoor enclosures and had access to our exhibit yard. Imani was being housed in 3 indoor enclosures (across the hall from John), and had access to her own private play yard as well. Though the lions could see, hear and smell each other on a daily basis, they’d never met in the same space until now.


John looks at Imani.


In order to ensure a successful first meeting, keepers wanted to be sure that both lions were fully grown, sexually mature, and confident and comfortable in their new homes at the Cincinnati Zoo before the lions began to share a territory. Additionally, keepers had to plan an introduction timeline that would be conducive to the potential birth of cubs (since John and Imani are a recommended breeding pair within the African lion SSP). An SSP, or Species Survival Plan, allows different zoological facilities to cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations. In order to receive a breeding recommendation for two animals, SSP coordinators assess the representation of each animal’s genes within the captive population. If the genes of both individuals are not overly represented among the captive population, and if there is a zoo with the space to house the offspring, then you get the “okay” to breed the pair.  Utilizing SSPs allows zoos to ensure that we are maintaining as much genetic variation as possible among captive populations, and also avoiding inbreeding and unwanted pregnancies.

With warmer weather on the horizon and both lions showing positive indicators that they were ready to meet, the keepers determined that the time was right to introduce John and Imani. Initially, both cats were a little shy and hesitant to say hello, but after a few minutes of awkward, sideways glances, John came through the door for a sniff.  Some grumbles, barks and swats ensued (perfectly normal and expected behaviors), and then both lions quickly settled down and even made some attempts at breeding!

The two have been spending time together behind the scenes ever since, and the keepers are absolutely thrilled with their progress. John and Imani will slowly be introduced to the exhibit yard together according to their comfort level. While John is perfectly at home in the exhibit yard, Imani has not been out there yet, so we will respect her need to move forward slowly. Her comfort level will likely dictate when our lions will be publicly on exhibit together, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this transition period.

On behalf of our lions, and all the keepers and staff involved, thank you all for your support and well-wishes! Our zoo guests have been so great about accepting John into the Zoo family, and we can’t wait for you all to meet Imani and see our newly bonded pair out on exhibit together soon!


May 2, 2014   7 Comments

Lion Enrichment

John the lion.

John the lion. Is that a smile?

John and Imani, our two African lions, are getting to know each other behind the scenes.  To make their eventual pairing as successful as possible, the introduction process is slow, strategic and multi-phased.

Today we gave John some straw from Imani’s enclosure.  You can see his response in the above photo.  The smile-like expression on his face, called a Flehmen Response, indicates that he’s “smelling” the scent using his mouth.  There is a special organ between the roof of the mouth and the palate that helps detect certain pheromones and chemical cues. Basically, John is trying to figure out if Imani is sexually receptive by smelling her urine. :) In the animal biz, we often call it “stink face”! It looks pretty good on John! ;)

Imani showed far less interest in the pile of John’s straw that she received, which is not surprising since we are  not seeing any estrus behaviors from her right now.

Check back for more updates on John and Imani’s introduction process.


February 21, 2014   1 Comment

Meeting Baby Rhino Ethan

Alabama Bunker Standoff Rhino

Indian rhino calf Ethan

On June 22 2013, the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama announced the birth a special rhino baby that has very strong ties to Cincinnati.  Sixteen months earlier, we applied the artificial insemination (AI) technique pioneered at the Cincinnati Zoo to a 12 year old female Indian rhino  named ‘Jeta’ at the Montgomery Zoo.  While Jeta successfully conceived and gave birth through natural breeding in 2005 and 2007, AI was requested in 2011 due to behavioral incompatibility with her current mate, Himal.  The ability to integrate AI into the situation helped these rhinos, since risks of injuries due to aggressive interactions between the pair were avoided.  While female Indian rhinos at the Cincinnati Zoo have been conditioned for AI without the use of anesthetics, a new approach was needed in order to expand  this research to other zoos.  Although logistically difficult, the strategy worked because the Montgomery Zoo’s keeper and veterinary staff were committed to collecting samples and monitoring their rhino closely for signs of behavioral estrus.  After the third AI attempt on Jeta using sperm that had been stored in CREW’s CryoBioBank for eight years, the first Indian rhino AI pregnancy outside of Cincinnati was produced!

Jeta and Ethan

Jeta and Ethan

Jeta’s calf was given the name Ethan.  I visited Ethan and his mom this past weekend, when we filmed a live segment for the Today show.  I was joined by our Public Relations manager Tiffany Barnes who set up and organized the Today show filming in conjunction with the Montgomery Zoo.  The day we arrived, Ethan turned 2 weeks old and the Montgomery Zoo staff had just gotten the first weight on him.  Ethan weighed in at 181 lbs, confirming this little guy has not missed a single meal!

 Group Shot after Today Show filming- Doug Goode, Montgomery Zoo Director; Tiffany Barnes, Cincinnati Zoo PR Manager, Monica Stoops, CREW Scientist, Stacy Heinse, Montgomery Zoo Veterinary Technician and Marcia Woodard, Deputy Director Montgomery Zoo

Group Shot after Today Show filming- Doug Goode, Montgomery Zoo Director; Tiffany Barnes, Cincinnati Zoo PR Manager, Monica Stoops, CREW Scientist, Stacy Heinse, Montgomery Zoo Veterinary Technician and Marcia Woodard, Deputy Director Montgomery Zoo

While special circumstances may have surrounded Ethan’s birth, he is acting like any other rhino calf.  Mom Jeta is teaching him everything he needs to know about being and behaving like an Indian rhino- she is amazing!  She uses her nose and head to guide him where she wants him to be.  I love this picture taken of him during the Today show filming, here he is giving a look very typical of Indian rhinos, standing with his head held high and boldly looking on at what we were doing.

Ethan’s birth represents an important and new step in managing captive Indian rhinos.  By producing offspring from non- or under-represented individuals, CREW is helping to ensure a genetically healthy captive population of Indian rhinos exists in the future.  Most importantly, this calf signifies how collaboration among the zoo community can achieve great things for the animals in their care.  We anticipate future AI attempts will build upon this novel approach to help not only our zoo, but other zoos produce baby Indian rhinos.

June 27, 2013   2 Comments