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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Keeper’s Blog: The Pride of Cincinnati!

If you’ve seen our 3 year-old female lioness Imani on exhibit lately, you may have noticed that she’s getting a little round around the middle. But Imani isn’t just packing on the pounds for winter, there is a chance that she might be pregnant!

Imani's bump

Imani’s bump

John and Imani came to the Cincinnati Zoo back in 2012 with a breeding recommendation from the African lion SSP (species survival plan). The SSP helps zoos to work cooperatively to manage captive animal populations so that we can avoid in-breeding and maintain healthy genetics within our captive populations. Fortunately for Cincinnati, John and Imani were matched up and brought to the Queen City to start a pride together.

You can read more about John and Imani’s first meeting here:


Almost immediately after being introduced to each other, keepers began to see breeding behaviors! Since John and Imani are both young, inexperienced lions, the initial breedings didn’t seem to amount to much. More often than not, Imani would only sit still for John for about 20 seconds, then she would swing around and smack him in the face while snarling. Poor John was receiving some very mixed and confusing signals, and breeding Imani seemed like a very daunting and scary proposition. He stuck with it though, and soon the breeding behaviors began to look more (re)productive! ;)

John and Imani

John and Imani

A little bit of background info on lion breeding. Typically, female lions cycle every 17 days, and they are induced ovulators (meaning they only ovulate, or release eggs, when mating has occurred). Induced ovulation helps ensure that breeding is successful because eggs are not being released and wasted unless breeding (and the possibility of fertilization) has occurred.

Keepers were seeing pretty regular estrus cycles from Imani every 17 days or so for the first few months that the lions were together. At each cycle, we observed breeding from the lions. Then, at the beginning of August, we anticipated an estrus cycle that never came. Since that time, keepers have been collecting and submitting fecal samples from Imani to our research department over at CREW (the zoo’s center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife). CREW analyzed the progesterone levels in Imani’s feces to help us determine that ovulation HAD occurred during the last observed breeding cycles. Even more exciting, Imani’s elevated progesterone levels were a good indication that she might be pregnant!

Now before we start planning a baby shower or registering for baby gifts, we should note another important and fascinating aspect of lion reproduction: pseudopregnancy. Pseudopregnancy (or “false” pregnancy) can cause the female’s body to exhibit signs and symptoms of pregnancy even if she’s not actually pregnant. For this reason, we are not saying “Imani’s pregnant!”. Instead, we are saying “Imani might be pregnant!” We will only know if there has been a true pregnancy if and when Imani delivers her cub(s) sometime this November.

In preparation for possible cubs, keepers have been working around the clock to ensure that Imani has a safe, secure and comfortable place to give birth. We are setting up a special “denning area” complete with full privacy, a cozy nest area, and even video surveillance cameras so that keepers can monitor Imani from a distance.  Since Imani will be a first time mom, much of the decision-making that happens from this point on will be based on Imani’s comfort level. Maintaining a sense of security and comfort for her during this pivotal and exciting time is our top priority! We ask for your patience and understanding as one (or both) lions may be spending less time on exhibit during the next month or so leading up to the possible arrival of cubs. As always, thank you for the amazing love and support you’ve shown our lions so far and stay tuned to learn if and when we add new lion cubs to our Cincinnati pride!

Wendy Rice
Africa Keeper
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

October 28, 2014   3 Comments

Driven To Death

It’s a massacre, annually taking the lives of more animals than laboratories and hunters combined. It’s a major threat to our native wildlife but you’re unlikely to see much about it on television or read much about it in the newspaper or on the internet. There aren’t any high-profile public campaigns against it and you won’t be asked to donate money to stop it. Every day an estimated 1,000,000 animals die on American roads. And while it’s tempting to think it’s only raccoons, possum, deer and stray domestic animals that are struck down it’s not. Even the more iconic American animals such as Bison, Bald Eagles, Alligators and Grizzly Bears meet their end on our roads.


Mink killed on local road July 2014

Animal-vehicle accidents are having a devastating impact on some of our most endangered species. In July a male Ocelot was killed on State Highway 100 in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of southern Texas. This refuge is one of the Ocelot’s last strongholds within the United States but in the last thirty years 40% of the refuge’s Ocelots have died on roads. Cars have proven equally dangerous for the Florida Panther. According to statistics provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 49 panthers were struck down on Florida’s roads between January 2012 and October 2014. An incredible number considering the Florida Panther population is estimated between 125-175 animals.

Animal-vehicle accidents also have a human component. According to the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration approximately 300,000 animal-vehicle accidents are reported annually. This number rose 33% between 1990 and 2004 despite an overall decline in vehicle accidents. The administration also reports it’s likely that at least half of all animal-vehicle accidents aren’t reported. Approximately 90% of all animal-vehicle accidents reported involve deer with an average cost of approximately $5,000 in vehicle repairs and medical care. Each year in the United States more than 200 people are killed in animal-vehicle accidents.

Every day nearly 200,000,000 drivers travel our nation’s 4,000,000 miles of roads making animal-vehicle accidents inevitable, especially given the widespread public apathy on the topic. Many of these accidents are preventable if we’re willing to take a few, simple steps;

Slow Down

Slowing down just a bit can improve the odds of avoiding an animal-vehicle accident. As an example, a car traveling at 50 mph travels over 73 feet per second. The same car, driving 5 mph slower travels just 66 feet per second. Those 7 feet can mean the difference between clipping an animal and the animal clearing the road before you pass.

Dusk, Dark and Dawn

The overwhelming majority of animal-vehicle accidents occur between dusk and dawn. This is when wildlife is most active and our vision is least acute.

Know Where You Are

An animal-vehicle accident can occur anywhere but is most likely on a country road or on a road in or adjacent to a forested area than on an inner-city street or an urban expressway.

Use Your Bright-lights When Possible

Our vehicle’s bright-lights better illuminate what’s in front of us and what’s off to the sides of the road. Depending on the animal you might even see your lights reflected in its eyes.

Look For More Than One

In the spring and summer many animals will be traveling with their young. Animals such as Deer, Coyotes, Turkeys and stray dogs can be encountered in groups regardless of the time of year. Always be aware that the animal you see might not be the only animal on or near the road.

By minimally changing our driving habits we can save wildlife from dying on our roads.

Winton E. Ray / Curator of Invertebrates

October 16, 2014   No Comments

Close Enough to Care

Each and every day at the Cincinnati Zoo we ask ourselves “How do we inspire our guests to truly care about wild animals and wild places?”  What we have determined is this caring starts with a personal connection between a guest and one of our wonderful animals.  We call this getting our visitors “close enough to care.”  The Zoo’s goal is to bring guests up close and personal with as many animals as possible.  This could mean standing within inches of a Malayan tiger, racing against chickens in the Blakely’s Barnyard Bonanza, or touching a flamingo while walking through the Zoo.

Danielle and Cha Cha

And, the Zoo’s Interpretive Collection is critical to the success of this goal.  Also known as the Zoo’s outreach collection, more than 200 animals are used exclusively for educational programming and intimate encounters with guests.  Bringing animals out on Zoo grounds and into classrooms allows guests and students to get close enough to care.  Once someone can make a physical connection, phobias are broken down and a new understanding emerges.  Adults and children alike make a personal connection with the animals as individuals.  Our hope is that this will translate into caring for the species as a whole.


Every animal in the Interpretive Collection can be handled in one way or another by specially trained staff and volunteers.  The animals are cared for by seven full-time keepers that are fully devoted to supporting the mission of the Zoo through close-encounter experiences.  The Interpretive Collection’s mission is to provide unique opportunities and experiences, positive relationships, and greater knowledge to the people and animals we encounter each day.


The Interpretive animals are often found running in and out of a circle of children, flying over-head in a classroom, coiling around an arm, flapping down a path, creeping over a hand, burrowing under an arm, or rooting through a garden.  We aim to let each animal showcase its natural skills and abilities.  Every animal is given the choice to participate in a program or encounter, which keeps the animal, visitor, and keeper happy.


Many of our animals are trained through operant conditioning, using only positive reinforcement.  Some are simply trained to crate themselves while others are trained to exhibit said natural behaviors for guests.  Relaxed animals make for great encounters and that is an important rule that the Interpretive Collection staff lives by.

As the Zoo’s attendance continues to increase and more educational programming is added, the need to grow the Interpretive Collection also increases.  We already have the distinction as one of the largest (if not THE largest!) interpretive collection in the United States.  So the next time you are at the Zoo or the Zoo is visiting you – get up close with the animals.  Ask questions, touch them, take your time and study them.  Whatever you do, please get close enough to care!

September 4, 2014   1 Comment