Lincoln Park Zoo will hopefully be starting the new year off with a newborn lion (or maybe even a few of them)! The zoo has confirmed that 4-year-old female African lion, Zari, is pregnant and expected to give birth this January at Pepper Family Wildlife Center.
This will be Zari’s second pregnancy; Pilipili, her first male cub with mate Jabari, was born March 15 of this year. The birth of Pilipili and Zari’s current pregnancy are part of the African Lion Species Survival Plan®, a collaborative population management effort across accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Animal care staff suspected a possible lion pregnancy based on observed breeding behavior combined with behavioral data using ZooMonitor, a Lincoln Park Zoo-created animal behavior monitoring app. The pregnancy was then confirmed via hormone analysis using the non-invasive collection of fecal samples. Lastly, during a positive-reinforcement training session, Zari voluntarily participated in ultrasound sessions which supported a pregnancy diagnosis.
African lions have a gestation period that lasts 3 1/2 to 4 months. In the wild, females isolate themselves to give birth, and Zari will have the opportunity to do the same. Litters generally consist of one to five cubs. As this pride did with young Pilipili, lionesses will cooperate to rear young.
Cubs continue to nurse for about six months, but start eating meat when they are as young as three months old. They become juveniles (young adults) somewhere between 1 and 2 years of age, which means Pilipili is on the cusp of this transition as he becomes a big brother.
Zari will continue to experience specialized care between now and the cubs’ potential birth date, including regular ultrasounds. These exams take place during routine training sessions, allowing Zari the choice to voluntarily participate in her care. Ultrasounds help determine litter size and allow veterinarians to monitor mom’s health.
As we patiently await good news for the African lion pride here at Lincoln Park Zoo, we will post regular updates across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter channels using #LionWatch as well as on the zoo blog and ZooMail, a biweekly news digest.
Stay tuned for more!