Posts Tagged With: lion

Six months with lion cub Bahati & the journey to get here

 

The lucky one

Guests have fallen in love with our now 6-month-old Bahati Moja, the first lion cub born at the Dallas Zoo in 43 years. Her birth on St. Patrick’s Day this year via a scheduled C-section left nothing to chance. The positive outcome was the result of a well-coordinated and meticulously planned group effort between our animal care, veterinary, and nutrition teams.

Planning for baby

The veterinary team knew that Bahati’s mother, Lina, has a narrow pelvic canal and small hips, which had resulted in two stillborn cubs during her previous pregnancy. Once keepers noticed Lina breeding with Kamau, the planning began to try to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth. The team determined the safest option for mom and baby would be a scheduled C-section. Then the staff planned out 105-110 days, the length of lion gestation, so that full veterinary and carnivore care teams could be on hand for the day of delivery.

Bahati nuzzles up to mom Lina.

When the big day finally arrived, all the careful planning paid off. The veterinary team performed a by-the-book C-section and ran into no issues during the procedure. Bahati was strong and vocal immediately after birth. Mother and cub returned to the carnivore barn soon after delivery so Lina could wake up from anesthesia, recover from surgery, and meet her cub in familiar surroundings. Keepers bottle-fed Bahati a special formula the first few days until mom fully recovered, but Lina showed excellent maternal instincts and took over care just 30 hours after her operation.

Meeting benchmarks

Bahati has been consistently gaining two to three pounds per week, and now weighs 60 pounds. In addition to nursing, the little predator now gets her own diet of bones and ground meat. In the wild, these carnivorous cats are opportunistic feeders and prey on zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, antelope, and other sources of meat.

This smart cub has mastered shifting from her yard to the barn and is working on target training, lying down, and sitting during voluntary training session with keepers. Soon she will advance to presenting her paws for inspection and conducting blood draws on her tail. Guests can watch her progress during training demonstrations at Predator Rock in our Giants of the Savanna habitat.

During a weighing session, newborn Bahati sticks her head out of the scale box.

Social life

Since lions are the only true social species of big cats, females tend to work together to raise all the cubs in their pride. It’s no surprise, then,  that aunt Jasiri enjoys her wild and playful niece and often helps Lina by babysitting. Even dad, Kamau, is playing a part in rearing the cub. When Bahati practices her stalking on Kamau’s thick mane and tail, dad is loving but stern in his response.

Bahati is putting her climbing skills to good use, exploring the rocks and hills in her habitat and climbing over mom, dad, and aunt Jasiri. In Africa, lions will lounge underneath trees to escape the heat and insects, and you’ll often see the same with our pride here.

Purr-fectly adorable

You may hear Bahati mew and growl, but it will still take a few more months for her to develop a full roar. As she grows, she’ll lose the spots of a newborn and will develop a full tail tuft. Come to Predator Rock – or the Serengeti Grill windows – to see our new pride and joy for yourself!

Bahati was born via C-section.
Bahati was born via C-section.
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Categories: Africa, Lion | Tags: , | Leave a comment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. PART ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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