We welcome four new residents to the city this month; Arnold, who arrived from Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, and three sisters, Nia, Kali and Zuri, who came from the Peoria Zoo in Illinois.
What sets the four apart from the rest of the population is that they are all lions, the newest residents, and star attractions, of the Audubon Zoo’s expanded African Savanna area, which is scheduled to open May 18.
There was a time when the background sounds of uptown would include not just the clanging of streetcars, but an occasional lion’s roar from the zoo. The latter sound has not been heard since Bubba, the former resident lion, died in 2013.
Now, thanks to a $5 million contribution by retired ship builder Boysie Bollinger and his wife, Joy, big cats will be returning. In keeping with the style of modern zoos, the four lions will be able to romp in the zoo’s self-made savanna. Visitors will peer face to face with them through the windows of train car replicas.
Besides romping and staring back at visitors, more is expected from the group. Through analysis of genetic and behavioral matches, zoo officials have determined that the cats can be compatible with each other in order to produce future lion generations. Though the lions began arriving last February, they have been kept apart so that they can gradually adjust to the new environment and bond with each other, so that one day they can be a happy and busy family.
There is the question of would these animals be better off running free in the wild. The answer is probably no. We humans have a tendency to attach our values to other animals, but in the wild, being free can be a dangerous life. Males have a tendency to kill other males who they consider to be rivals, and they can be equally deadly with cubs not of their bloodline. For food they often need to wrestle with other animals, all of whom are instinctively killer predators. Then there is the possibility of human poachers who are toting rifles. While the lions’ space in a zoo is limited, so are the threats to everyday lion life.
We thank the Bollingers for their generosity, which may in turn inspire generations of people to be interested and protective of animals.
Meanwhile a personal message to Valerio, the zoo’s jaguar who escaped last year, and before being recaptured killed four alpacas, a fox and an emu: If you escape again, you might want to stay away from the lions. They are a lot tougher crowd.