As you lion fans know, Oshana and Mina’s litters are very close in age: only four days apart. By the time the cubs were a few days old, all seven cubs plus their moms have had access to each other through a mesh panel. Lots of visiting has been going on. Mina and Oshana, who are sisters, have been happy to be able to socialize with each other again; there has been much rubbing and affectionate greeting behavior going on. The cubs have been fascinated with each other as well; Mina’s three and Oshana’s four have spent lots of time looking at each other through the screen.
Things were going so well, the decision was made to allow all the cubs and their moms to be together. In the wild, lion cubs are introduced to the pride at around six weeks, so the timing was right. After some discussion, we decided the best option would be to just open up the dividing mesh and let it happen as nature intended. This was a first for us: we have never had two litters this close in age before. In preparation, each cub received a haircut: small shaved patches on various parts of their bodies that allow us to quickly identify who is who.
When the big day arrived, December 19, we were all a bit nervous, although expecting things to turn out well. As planned, the divider door was opened with no fanfare…and soon everybody was together! The cubs behaved as if they had always been one pride and extremely vigorous play began immediately! Mina and Oshana greeted each other with friendly vocalizations and set off to check out each other’s cubs and dens. One by one, the cubs were pinned down by big lion paws and inspected, with much talking from all parties (the cubs mostly squalled and complained when their play was interrupted). As time progressed, we were all grateful for the identifying marks on the cubs – in the big balls of tumbling fur, it would have been next to impossible to tell them apart!
The group was together for a few hours, and then were separated for the rest of the day. Things had gone beautifully, but with all the excitement, Mina and Oshana had not let the cubs nurse. As soon as everyone was in their respective rooms, the exhausted cubs had a long nursing bout and fell asleep almost immediately. Later, when they awoke, the first thing they did was run to the mesh door and look for their new friends.
The following day, the big event was repeated. This time, all the cubs took a couple of naps, all piled into one den or the other! We still saw no nursing, so we separated the group again after several hours. We anticipate that when Mina and Oshana relax a little more, nursing will occur as normal and the group can be together for longer periods. Of course, the next big question is…when to introduce dad Izu? We know he is a good and gentle father, from his behavior with his last litters. Maybe this intro will happen very soon.
What a rewarding experience! Events like this are what really make our jobs special. I will keep everyone updated about the pride’s progress, and will be sure to post photos when they are available for viewing. These are exciting times at Lion Camp!
Marcia Redding is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.
Read Marcia’s previous blog, Mothering, Lion Style.
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