First African Lion Cub Born at Lincoln Park Zoo in 20 Years

Healthy cub born on March 15; Remains behind the scenes at the new Pepper Family Wildlife Center

CHICAGO (March 17, 2022) – The African lion pride at Pepper Family Wildlife Center has grown by one! Lincoln Park Zoo is roaring with excitement to share the arrival of a healthy cub. On March 15, 3-year-old African lion Zari (Zar-ee) gave birth to a cub as part of the African Lion Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a collaborative population management effort across Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited institutions.

The cub has yet to be sexed or named. Lion gestation lasts 3½ to four months. After birth, African lion young begin nursing within 24 hours, and they open their eyes within a few days. Over the next several weeks, the cub will become more mobile and curious, beginning to explore its surroundings.

“It’s exciting to welcome the new addition to Pepper Family Wildlife Center, as the cub marks the first offspring born at this new state-of-art habitat as well as the first cub born at Lincoln Park Zoo in 20 years,” said Curator of Mammals Mike Murray. “The pride was formed as part of the African Lion Species Survival Plan® with anticipation that breeding could occur. This cub’s arrival signifies the lion pride, which arrived at the zoo this past fall, feel at home in their new habitat and are receiving the best possible care.”

While the cub grows in size and strength, it will remain behind the scenes with mother Zari for the next few months and will not be visible to the public. For the first six weeks, mom and cub will remain close to their den, as they would in the wild. During this time, interactions with Animal Care staff will be based on the comfort of Zari, and both will be closely monitored remotely via camera. At times, the other members of the lion pride may not be visible if they choose to stay near Zari and the cub behind the scenes.

“First-time mother Zari has been very attentive and is showing the necessary maternal instincts to care for the cub, including nursing and grooming,” said Murray. “With all births at the zoo, especially with a first-time mom, we remain cautiously optimistic and hope the cub will continue to pass critical milestones.”

Murray continued, “We look forward to welcoming guests this summer to celebrate the cub’s arrival when the youngster will be visible at Pepper Family Wildlife Center.”

Zari was recommended to breed with 4-year-old male African lion Jabari (Ja-bar-ee). This is both Zari and Jabari’s first offspring. Zari was born at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in 2018, and Jabari was born in 2017 at Blank Park Zoo. Both arrived at Lincoln Park Zoo in fall 2021 for the opening of Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

Animal Care staff had observed breeding behavior between Zari and Jabari. Zari was then monitored for signs of weight gain, fecal samples were collected non-invasively to test hormone levels that indicate pregnancy, and voluntary ultrasounds were conducted.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center, opened in 2021, is a state-of-the-art, savanna-style habitat focused on animal choice and includes thermal comfort zones for cooling and heating, intricate rockwork and climbing trees for vertical complexity, and space for offspring. The facility is home to a pride of African lions, two Canada lynx, two red pandas, and two snow leopards.

African lions are large predators that can weigh up to 500 pounds. Males are larger than females and can be distinguished by their mane, which surrounds their head and extends to their chest. Lions are a social species who live in prides. This vulnerable species is found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and its habitat ranges from forests to shrublands and grasslands. Lion populations have declined for the past 100 years, with fewer than 20,000 lions remaining. Lincoln Park Zoo is a proud partner of the KopeLion Project based in Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania, which strives to foster human-lion coexistence.

Those interested in helping care for mom and cub all year long can shop the zoo’s Wish List at lpzoo.org/wish-list.

For more information about African lions, the zoo’s partnership with KopeLion, or Lincoln Park Zoo, visit lpzoo.org.

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About Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo inspires communities to create environments where wildlife will thrive in our urbanizing world. The zoo is a leader in local and global conservation, animal care and welfare, learning, and science. A historic Chicago landmark founded in 1868, the not-for-profit Lincoln Park Zoo is a privately-managed, member-supported organization and is free and open 365 days a year. Visit us at lpzoo.org.