The Denver Zoo may be closed to visitors to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, but, for the animals inside, life goes on.
This is especially the case for the zoo's lion pride, which welcomed two new members Thursday, April 23, the zoo announced Tuesday. The new cubs were born to mother and father Kamara and Tobias, who are both four years old.
"We're seeing a lot of positive signs that things are going well, and will continue to keep a close eye on [Kamara] and the cubs in these critical first days and weeks," Assistant Curator of Predators Matt Lenyo said.
The births come little less than a year after the zoo welcomed another lion cub named Tatu, The Denver Post reported. Tatu is also the child of Tobias, meaning he now has two half-siblings. (Their sexes are still unknown.) His mother is Kamara's mother, Neliah, and his birth is now helping the new mom care for her own cubs.
"We are watching Kamara closely to make sure she's showing appropriate maternal behaviors, like nursing and grooming," Lenyo said. "She learned a lot by watching Neliah and interacting with Tatu last year, which really prepared her to be a mom."
The cubs' birth is good news for lion conservation. African lions have decreased by fifty percent since 1994, Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) told National Geographic. While they once roamed almost the entire African continent, they are now absent from 94 percent of their historic range and are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The primary threats to their survival are loss of prey and habitat, as well as poaching.
"Lions are truly one of the world's universal icons, and they are quietly slipping away," WCN director of conservation programs Paul Thomson told National Geographic.
The new cubs' birth is part of an effort to combat this trend. Tobias, their father, was moved to the Denver Zoo in 2018 from Buffalo in the hope that he would mate with Kamara and Neliah, the zoo said. The move was recommended by the Lion Species Survival Plan, a plan for ensuring healthy, genetically diverse lion populations in zoos belonging to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
"Kamara and Tobias were a very genetically valuable match," General Curator Emily Insalaco said in the birth announcement. "And these cubs are an important contribution to the species' population in AZA facilities, and will help inspire visitors to learn more about their wild cousins."
While the zoo isn't receiving visitors right now, the cubs won't know the difference. They will be secluded with their mother for two months to give them time to connect with her and meet the rest of the pack, which also includes an unrelated seven-year-old female named Sabi.