Zoo's lion cubs overcome illness

Sept. 14, 2006


New arrivals at Cameron Park Zoo are keeping the staff on their toes.

On June 13, Shamfa, a South African lion, gave birth to five lion cubs. Due to illness, and despite 24-hour staff care, only three survived.

The cubs made their debut over Labor Day weekend, and visitors voted on names for the three cubs.

The winning names, all of which are of African dialect, were Mashaka, meaning "trouble," and Ade, "the royal one," for the males, and Kioja, or "miracle," for the female.

And Kioja really is the zoo's own miracle.

On Aug. 14, Shamfa rejected Kioja from the nest box and her siblings. Staff members could tell the cub had lost weight and something was wrong.

She was taken to Texas A&M Veterinary Hospital in College Station, where doctors performed a spinal tap, X-rays and an MRI.

Kioja suffered a spinal injury that paralyzed her back end, said Terry Cox, curator of programs and exhibits at the zoo.

Michael Roberts, animal care manager of mammals, said zoo staff members are hand-rearing the cub. She gets between 13 and 15 hours of attention from the keepers each day.

During this time, the keepers make sure she maintains a balanced diet and does physical therapy. Her every move is monitored and documented in order to "assist her toward a successful and complete recovery," Roberts said.

"She's now regaining movement and doing very well," Cox said. "We have high hopes that she'll be a normal lioness one day."

Every day the three cubs go out on exhibit.

"The brothers and sister interact as if they were never separated," Roberts said. This play and exercise period not only helps with Kioja's physical therapy but also strengthens their family bond. Since Shamfa rejected Kioja, it could be dangerous to reintroduce the two just yet, Roberts said.

"Kioja's health is our primary focus and importance. Reintroducing her to her mother is a possibility for the future," Roberts said.

The two male cubs are interacting just fine with each other and their mother, Roberts said. They play and wrestle, and their mom plays with them. They also participate in social grooming, which is part of the family bonding.

Dallas sophomore Scott Lake and Atlanta freshman Ariel Clarke recently went to the zoo for their wildlife ecology lab.

Lake said that while viewing the lion exhibit, one repeatedly growled at him. "It was exhilarating," he said. "I really did learn a lot."

The lion cubs are on exhibit 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. Cameras are allowed at all exhibits.

"Sometimes they stay out a little longer because mom doesn't want to come in," Cox said.