Lion Keeper’s Blog: The Trouble Cubbies

Cub #2’s newly erupted teeth are easily visible in this photo.
Cub #2’s newly erupted teeth are easily visible in this photo.

Weeks 5 and 6 of the lion cubs’ lives have been some of the most exciting so far!  The level of physical activity we’ve seen from the cubs has grown exponentially!  Our sweet, sleepy little lion lumps have morphed into bold, mischievous and active cubs. They are even starting to look more like little lions!  Their teeth have erupted and they are beginning to run (sort of) and stalk each other.  They’re still a little unsteady on their feet… often walking like they’re on the rocking deck of a ship at sea.  But with each passing day, they grow more coordinated and purposeful in their adventures.  One of their favorite pastimes is playing with Imani’s tail tuft! Sometimes Imani will get up to walk away and whichever cub is attached at the time gets drug around for a little ride.


Cub #1 continues to live up to its reputation as the group’s pioneer.  Often #1 would come over to the mesh and try to steal little bites whenever the keepers fed Imani.  At first, it seemed like #1 was just suckling on the meat and exploring it, rather than actually eating it.  Fortunately, Imani’s favorite diet item (a nutritionally complete ground meat) is the perfect starter meat for a baby carnivore.  The mushy texture is easily swallowed and requires little to no chewing or tearing.  Cub #1 has definitely developed a taste for it, and now keepers are actually able to feed tiny little meatballs to Cub #1 straight through the mesh!

Cub #1 poses for a picture.

Cub #2 continues to be the shyest and most reserved of the bunch.  Cub #2 is still a little apprehensive about the keepers getting too close, but it seems to find its strength from its siblings.  If Cubs 1 and 3 come over to investigate, Cub #2 usually isn’t far behind.  But Cub #2 definitely likes to keep a safe healthy distance between itself and the strange two-leggers.  Although 2 usually prefers to observe its siblings’ antics from a safe distance, it is constantly pushed outside of its comfort zone by its bold and inquisitive siblings.  From what I’ve observed of “Cub World”, you don’t always have a say in whether or not you participate in playtime.

Cub #3 surprised everyone when it became the first cub to successfully cross over the threshold between holding rooms and venture next door!  All 3 cubs had been working on tackling this milestone for the last couple of weeks, but it was our little underdog cub that finally made the big climb (which, incidentally, is about 10 inches tall).  Once cub #3 had crossed over, it seemed to open the flood gates and then all 3 cubs spent the next hour or so investigating this magical new space (which is nearly identical to the nest box they’ve occupied for their first 5 weeks of life).

Imani, always the prudent mother, followed them over and spent a while trying to round them up and replace them in the nesting den.  Unfortunately, it was a bit like the chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy”.  Every time Imani managed to get one cub back over into the nest box, another was already crawling across the threshold back into the taboo holding next door.

The cubs’ great southern exploration provided John with a new, completely unrestricted view of them for the first time from across the hall.  With no “privacy plywood” impeding his line of sight, John watched in fascination as his little progeny tottered around excitedly and thwarted Imani’s efforts to round them up and relocate them to the nest area.  Poor Imani seemed a little exasperated by her unruly and uncooperative cubs and eventually crossed over into the nesting area, laid down and seemingly gave up on trying to corral the wily bunch.  Fortunately, within about 10 minutes, the cubs seemed to realize that Momma had “disappeared” and all three climbed back over the threshold on their own to rejoin her for a quick nursing session and a long recuperative nap from such an laborious adventure.

All 3 cubs are kept in the holding den using the mesh howdy door so Imani can have a few minutes of alone time.
Imani rolls on the ground, enjoying a rare moment of alone time!

The next day, when keepers gave the cubs and Imani access to the neighboring den again, Imani seemed much more relaxed about the set-up.  She didn’t even try to bring the cubs back into the nesting area when they crossed the threshold, and she seemed to have resigned herself to the fact that the cubs could now go back and forth as they pleased and there wasn’t much she could do about it.  Most days, Imani and the cubs actually choose to spend most of their time in the “new den” which sits directly across from John, right in his line of sight.  It’s a fortunate turn of events that will actually help us towards transitioning John back into the group and establishing a proper lion pride.

John waits patiently across the hall to meet the cubs.

On the horizon for the family: The cubs’ first wellness exams (will be scheduled mid-January) where we will finally learn the genders of our 3 cubs!  Shortly after that, we’ll begin the process of introductions to Dad!

Three Cubs
Cub #3 licking Cub #2’s ear. Cub #1 looking unimpressed in front.