Meet this zoo's newest lion cubs

Lion cubs Neema, Zahara, Makena and Mshango from the Oklahoma City Zoo at seven weeks old.
Lion cubs Neema, Zahara, Makena and Mshango from the Oklahoma City Zoo at seven weeks old. Photo credit Oklahoma City Zoo/Jennifer D

Names for four lion cubs born in late September at the Oklahoma City Zoo were announced Wednesday after 15,000 fans weighed in on what the zoo’s youngest African lions should be called.

They chose names inspired by Africa: Neema (grace), Zahara (flower) and Makena (happiness) were selected for three female cubs and Mshango (surprise) was selected for the one male cub.

“We are overwhelmed by the number of responses we received to help name the lion cubs,” said the Zoo in a Facebook post. Other name options included four inspired by the cubs’ mother, Dunia, and four inspired by Oklahoma.

Dunia, a 7-year-old African lion, gave birth to the litter of cubs – her first – on Sept. 26 in the Zoo’s hillside Lion Overlook habitat after around 100 days of gestation.

“This is an incredibly significant event as it has been 15 years since the last litter of African lion cubs was born at the OKC Zoo,” said a press release about the births. “Mom and her cubs are in good health and will remain behind-the-scenes in their indoor dens at Lion Overlook as they spend time together bonding.”

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, African lions are the second-largest living big cat after the tiger. As they get older, all of Dunia’s cubs should be able to roar, and Mshango will eventually grow a thick brown or black mane.

In the wild, African lions live for around 10 to 18 years, and in captivity they can live for around 30 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified African lions as vulnerable, with wild populations decreasing due to illegal hunting, habitat loss, loss of food sources and conflict with humans.

These lions are the “most social of all cats,” and they often live in prides of around 15 lions, though these groups can grow up to 40.

“It is estimated that the total population of lions in Africa is less than 40,000 mature individuals,” said the OKC Zoo. “In 2021, the OKC Zoo provided money from its Round Up for Conservation Fund to help three conservation organizations based in Africa with their efforts to reduce human-predator conflict.”

The OKC Zoo, which has operated for more than a century, also participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan for African lions. This plan recommended that Dunia breed with the OKC Zoo’s 10-year-old male lion, Hubert.

According to the zoo, Dunia was in labor for more than seven hours while the zoo’s carnivore care team observed through video monitoring. This team reported that all four cubs were nursing within hours of being born and successfully meeting their first major milestone.

“Throughout her pregnancy, birth and now care of these four cubs, Dunia has been amazing and is showing excellent maternal care,” said Tyler Boyd, OKC Zoo’s curator of carnivores. “This birth is vital to the African lion population and has been a culmination of years of hard work, dedication and commitment by the Oklahoma City Zoo and its supporters, the African Lion SSP and the Zoo’s carnivore care team. We cannot wait to watch these cubs grow up and become fan favorites for years to come.”

Just after the cubs were born, the zoo’s veterinary care team performed a wellness check and found that each weighed 2 to 2.5 pounds. Hubert and Moto, Dunia’s sister, will be gradually introduced to the cubs.

They were kept out of public view until they received their first round of vaccinations Wednesday. As of this week, the cubs are healthy and continuing to grow strong – they now weigh around 10 pounds each. African lions typically grow to be 277 to 600 pounds.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Lion cubs Neema, Zahara, Makena and Mshango from the Oklahoma City Zoo at seven weeks old.