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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

Bowling for Rhinos was a Smashing Success!

All five living species of rhinos are threatened in the wild due to habitat loss and poaching for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold on the black market. Poaching rates have soared sky high, but there are thousands of dedicated, passionate rangers standing in between the rhinos and the poachers – and they need our help.

Each year, the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) raises funds through Bowling for Rhinos (BFR) events held across North America to support critical rhino conservation projects in the wild. This year, the Greater Cincinnati AAZK Chapter organized its inaugural BFR fundraiser, which took place on October 11 at Stone Lanes.BFR Logo


The turnout was fantastic! More than 160 people registered to bowl and even more showed up just to take part in the festivities. Even J.J. Hoover and Logan Andrusek of the Cincinnati Reds came out to show their support!

Logan Ondrusek and JJ Hoover pose with the rhino mascot

Logan Ondrusek and JJ Hoover pose with the rhino mascot

Beyond bowling, there were plenty of other opportunities for fun and fundraising. The chapter held a silent auction and raffle and sold t-shirts, chocolate bars and shot glasses, and the bar even offered special rhino-themed drinks. The Zoo’s Sumatran rhino mascot even showed up to meet and greet the bowlers.

T-shirts for sale!

T-shirts for sale!

Bidding at the silent auction

Bidding at the silent auction

Bowlers posing with the rhino mascot

Bowlers posing with the rhino mascot

In addition to the Zoo and Stone Lanes, the event drew in several other local businesses and individuals as sponsors. A huge thank you goes out to:

  • Mac Paran
  • Riverside Topsoil
  • White Crane Tattoo
  • The Emily and Mark Frolick Foundation
  • Solid Training
  • The Wallace Group Dentistry for Today
  • Nancy Haas
  • Liquid Sasquatch Pottery
  • Listermann Brewery
  • North College Hill Chiropractic Center
  • T.J. Williams Electric Co.
  • Norwood City Schools
  • Gary’s Professional Dog Grooming
  • Mike Dulaney
  • Jeff Mitchell

All in all, the event pulled in more than $8,500! Every penny earned through BFR goes directly to field conservation efforts to protect all five endangered species of rhino. For example, in Indonesia, funds raised support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) that safeguard Javan and Sumatran rhino populations in national parks. Dedicated wildlife rangers patrol the forests, arresting poachers and destroying snares and traps. And in Kenya, funds raised support the Lewa Conservancy’s Rhino Conservation Programme, which has been extremely successful in protecting black and white rhino populations.

Rhinos on the Lewa Conservancy

Rhinos on the Lewa Conservancy

The chapter is quite pleased with how the first annual BFR turned out. Thanks to all who showed their support. We hope you will come out and join us next year!

October 27, 2014   No Comments

Exploring the Why of a Where

What is your favorite place? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? I bet that when you answer those questions, you are not envisioning a dot on a giant world map. In fact, I bet that you are not picturing a map at all. What you are picturing is an experience, a sensation, a memory, or a vision of an ACTUAL place. Maybe what you picture is the vastness of the grassland savannahs where zebras roam and lions stalk. Perhaps you are recalling the smell of fall leaves crunching underfoot as you rode horseback along a wooded trail. Geography is so much more than a place on a map or a point on a globe. It is more than the names of countries, states, and capital cities. It is “the why of a where.”


The National Geographic Explorer offshore at L’Ans aux Meadows

I got a firsthand chance to learn the why of a where this year when I was selected to travel to the Canadian Maritimes and circumnavigate Newfoundland as a 2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for educators that is made possible by a partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. The purpose of this fellowship is to recognize educators who have demonstrated a commitment to increasing geographic literacy in their students. Educators apply and, if chosen as a fellow, are sent on expeditions aboard the National Geographic Explorer vessel to get hands on experiences with the natural and cultural diversity of a region and bring these experiences back to their classroom. As the Lead Program Developer at the Cincinnati Zoo, that means incorporating my experiences into the programs that I create and the outreach that will be part of my fellowship journey. By doing so, I am hoping to increase knowledge about different places on our planet, help others develop an appreciation for the people and wildlife that inhabit these regions, and cultivate understanding about the global impact, for better or worse, that our choices and actions can have. I know that this trip was transformative for me and helped me better appreciate these things.


David Boyd salting a prepared cod at Prime Berth Fishing Village, Twillingate, Newfoundland

By circumnavigating Newfoundland, we were able to really experience the geography, topography, and culture of the region. Cruising by jagged coastlines, standing on the easternmost tip of North America, and traversing fjords turned the coastlines on a map into real and tangible places that I can visualize. The cities and waters to and through which we traveled have become more than dots on a map as well. They are the places where I tasted wild blueberries, met Vikings, felt the rough, bristly needles of a black spruce, heard the snort of a startled caribou discovering it is being watched. It is where I heard the call of circling gulls while I watched the plume of mist produced by a fin whale surfacing to swim beside the ship. They are the places where I walked the streets of a fortress, watched the “disassembly” of a cod, dragged my plankton net, and saw Alexander Graham Bell’s dreams take flight.

2014 Canadian Maritimes_2014917_0008 smaller

Showing my youngest shipmate, Connor, how to examine water samples for microscopic sea life. Photo by Sisse Brimberg – KEENPRESS

I have heard the different accents that are acquired when the Scottish meet the English meet the Mi’kmaq, Inuit, and Innu Indians. I have heard the heartbreak in a man’s voice when he speaks about the loss of the cod fishing industry and, with it, the heritage upon which Newfoundland was founded. This, all of this, is Newfoundland. This is what geographic literacy and the why of a where means to me. It is with this understanding that I will use my experience to make geography meaningful in my programs. I will help them draw connections geographically, geologically, historically, anthropologically, and biologically between areas while weaving in the intangibles of a place that speak to its essence and its roots.

I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this experience and inspired by the duty and privilege I have of sharing it with my community. We are all so much more than the place where we live. We are part of something bigger and, for me, that has never been clearer. So go and explore the wildness of a local park, contemplate the rain that falls and its journey from far off oceans to get to you, and be mindful of this planet and our place in it as well as on it. In the words of Baba Dioum, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”


Snowy owl at Salmonier Nature Park, Holyrood, Newfoundland


To learn more about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, click here

To learn more about how the Cincinnati Zoo’s conservation projects and how you can help conserve wildlife and wild spaces, please click here.

October 24, 2014   No Comments