Film and TV

The Lion King’s Simba Is Based on a Dallas Lion Cub

Little Simba was based on videos provided by the Dallas Zoo.
Little Simba was based on videos provided by the Dallas Zoo. Dallas Zoo
Disney’s heralded remake of its animated classic The Lion King has taken its place among the top 10 box office openings ever, and locals can take pride in the fact that a fresh-faced Dallas cub served as a majestic role model. While Alyssa Milano was the inspiration for The Little Mermaid's Ariel, and Pocahontas was based on actress Irene Bedard, the new Simba is based on a local.

The computer-animated re-creation of the 1994 blockbuster musical earned an estimated $185 million during its North American debut and has raked in about $531 million worldwide.

The film's main character, a lion named Simba, who's heir to the animal kingdom, and his movements were based on the Dallas Zoo's cub Bahati, whose full name is Bahati Moja, which means “lucky one” in Swahili.

"We love to think we can see little bits of Bahati when we look at Simba now.” — Dallas Zoo spokesperson Kari Streiber

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“We just happened to have a cub at the right time when they were in that phase of the film,” says Dallas Zoo spokesperson Kari Streiber. “So we were able to provide some reference points. Of course, we love to think we can see little bits of Bahati when we look at Simba now.”


Bahati was just a baby when the zoo documented their lions close to a week and provided video footage of the playful cub to assist animators who were working on the film at the time.  But Bahati is 2 years old now, and in typical baby fashion, she’s grown up quick.

“She looks a bit different than she did when she was a baby,” says Streiber. “Bahati now weighs 260 pounds. She’s a full-grown lioness. She certainly doesn’t look like the video we submitted back then, but she’s beautiful.”

Although the big cats always attract lots of onlookers, Streiber says there hasn’t been an overwhelming increase of people rushing out to brave the midsummer heat and get a glimpse of Bahati since the film hit the theaters. However, for those who would like to see Bahati, who was born March 17, 2017, she can typically be found on warm days hanging around with her mom and her aunt. Bahati’s father is currently not on exhibition.

“Sometimes, they’ll all three go out,” says Streiber. “They really have a good bond between the three of them.”

Particularly during the heat, the family of lionesses will have their favorite hangout spots, says Streiber, adding that one of those favored spaces is located near a café and grill that has a glass wall where visitors can look out into the lion habitat. It’s there that they prefer to spend time lounging in a shady area against the glass. The spot is also a cool place for taking pictures, Streiber says. But there’s no particular time when the family of lionesses can be seen, because they like to rule their own schedule.

No word on which lion brought shame upon its zoo by becoming the model for evil Uncle Scar who ruined everyone's childhood. Sorry to bring back those memories.
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