#LomelokWatch: A Lion Cub Timeline

March 7, 2024

Lomelok the African lion cub has captured hearts as part of the lion pride here at Lincoln Park Zoo. He is getting support from around the world, from those who visit him in Chicago to those who watch the pride daily on zoolife.

A unique lion cub, Lomelok has had mobility issues since he could walk and has recently undergone a surgery to address a herniated disc. Below is a timeline of his and his littermates’ lives to this point. Please check back for updates as Lomelok continues on his long road to recovery.

lion cub

October 14, 2021 – The new Pepper Family Wildlife Center opens with male Jabari and females Zari, Hasira, and Cleo. Built using data gathered through ZooMonitor, Lincoln Park Zoo’s behavior tracking software, it’s designed with the lions’ preferences in mind.

March 15, 2022 – Proving that the new habitat is successfully meeting the animals’ needs, Zari gives birth to her first lion cub, Pilipili. The birth is part of the African Lion Species Survival Plan®.

December 9, 2022 – Lincoln Park Zoo announces that lioness Zari is pregnant! Zoo staff observed breeding behavior and recorded it through the Lincoln Park Zoo-created app, ZooMonitor. Then, the pregnancy was confirmed via hormone analysis. During a positive-reinforcement training session, Zari voluntarily participated in ultrasound sessions. The zoo institutes #LionWatch so the public can follow all the news.

January 9, 2023Three lion cubs are born to Zari. They meet their first milestones, including nursing within the first few hours of birth.

February 23, 2023 – The zoo announces that the lion cubs have had their first veterinary appointments at the age of six weeks. During an exam that was carefully choreographed to allow 18 keepers, veterinarians, and veterinary techs to give the cubs all the care they required in under eight minutes, the cubs were found to be all males. The three young lions also received vaccinations and had small portions of their fur shaved so they were easily identifiable. Lomelok undergoes radiographs to assess concerns with his mobility and no bone issues are detected.

March 16, 2023 – The lion cubs are named! In partnership with several Ilchokuti, or “lion guardians,” who work with KopeLion in Tanzania, the three youngsters are given names in the Maasai language. They will be called Pesho, or “unexpected gift”; Sidai, which means “good”; and Lomelok, which means “sweet.”

April 14, 2023 – After months of bonding with other pride members behind the scenes, Pesho, Lomelok, and Sidai make their debut in the outdoor habitat at Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

May 31, 2023 – Following observations of Lomelok since birth that indicate he is having rear limb mobility issues and low activity levels, the young lion undergoes more testing. He volunteers for a hand injection from his care team and is sedated. He receives a full examination from zoo vets that includes radiographs and bloodwork. No answers are provided immediately, but Animal Care staff and others keep a close eye on him.

June 3, 2023 ­­– With initial examinations inconclusive, the zoo turns expands testing and consults with MedVet Chicago. Lomelok receives a series of advanced diagnostic tests, including more radiographs, a CT scan, an MRI, and an epidural for anti-inflammatory and analgesia. Lomelok is diagnosed with a conformational narrowing (stenosis) of the channels that carry nerves from the spinal cord to the legs. This compresses the nerves. Some days, he appears stiffer than others.

August 10, 2023 ­­– The zoo provides an update, noting that Lomelok remains with his family and continues to learn about life as a lion. Zoo veterinarians continue to augment his treatment to help ease any discomfort and adjust to a quickly growing lion cub.

March 1, 2024 – Following a checkup with the zoo’s partners at MedVet Chicago, Lomelok is diagnosed with a herniated, or slipped disc, near the location of the issue he has experienced since birth and surgery is recommended. The zoo shares a video from zoo veterinarians Dr. Kathryn Gamble and Dr. Kate Gustavsen, which explains the diagnosis, the surgery, and the risks. While this is a common surgery in humans and pets, there doesn’t appear to be any written precedent for a surgery of this kind in a growing lion cub.

March 5 – Lomelok undergoes an hours-long surgery at MedVet Chicago to address his disc. It’s a full day that includes anesthesia, transport, diagnostics, preparation, and the operation itself. Following the surgery, he returns to the zoo and starts his road to recovery. He’ll be under observation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as the first hours and steps are critical to his health going forward.

March 6 – After Lomelok returned from surgery at MedVet Chicago, he recovered from anesthesia and ate enthusiastically, which are important milestones in his health journey. He is being monitored around the clock, but recovery is expected to take several months and will not be linear; his care team is prepared for setbacks and unexpected outcomes.

March 7 – Last night, around midnight, Lomelok fully stood up on his own—another major milestone. He also took a long, five-hour nap, monitored by care team staff via camera so he could rest undisturbed. He is currently recovering in a small space, which naturally helps to control his levels of activity during the first, critical 72 hours. Staff will be monitoring him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will also continue to monitor lion pride dynamics in the face of these changes.

March 19 – Lomelok continues his recovery; he is beginning to walk comfortably and regaining strength. He now has access to a larger space that will allow him to increase his daily activity. He also had a checkup this week; Lincoln Park Zoo’s Dr. Gustavsen and MedVet share that he will soon graduate to walking up and down steps as part of his physical therapy sessions.

April 3 – Lomelok remains separated from his pride during his recovery, but he’s been showing off his personality as he starts to feel better, and he has been vocalizing back and forth with his brothers. He can also see and smell Pesho, Sidai, and Pilipili. Since he can’t yet run and play, he is receiving extra enrichment, from ice treats to scent enrichment.

April 13 – Lomelok suffered a setback this week and wasn’t quite acting himself. His care team knew that he would have good and bad days as he healed, so this was not unexpected and they were immediately ready to make adjustments—changes included a pause in his physical therapy to allow for extra rest. As of the end of this week, he has shown improvement. Veterinary and Animal Care staff continue to work toward reintroduction with his brothers.

April 17 – While Lomelok remains separated from his brothers, Pesho, Pilipili, and Sidai are now able to visit him through a mesh door. The three young lions spend less time outside as they choose to remain near Lomelok.

April 19 – Reintroductions between Lomelok and his brothers begin in earnest. Pesho, with his mellow demeanor, is the first of the littermates to be reintroduced, while Animal Care and veterinary teams monitor all interactions.

April 23 – Lomelok has been successfully reintroduced to his brothers Pesho, Sidai, and Pilipili. His care team has decided to allow them intermittent yard access starting today. As he continues to recover, Lomelok will still need rest days, so he may remain indoors sometimes. When this happens, his brothers may choose to keep him company. As usual, Animal Care and veterinary staff will monitor his progress and make changes where needed.

lions after reintroduction

How Can You Help?

The best thing you can do to help Lomelok’s recovery is to donate to the zoo. The funds will go to support critical care and veterinary procedures such as Lomelok’s surgery, as well as top-notch care for all the animals at the zoo. Give your gift at lpzoo.org/donate.

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