Animal Welfare

The Inside Story Behind the Birth of the Dallas Zoo's 'Lucky' Lion Cub

Dallas Zoo
The baby lion Bahati, just after birth.
The staff at the Dallas Zoo named their newborn lion cub Behati Moja, which means “lucky one” in Swahili. The cub, the first African lion born at the zoo in 40 years, earned the name. We spoke to Lora Baumhardt, a mammal supervisor at the zoo, about the cub and her mother, the dramatic late March delivery and the careful plan to introduce Behati to her father.

Dallas Observer: This lioness only delivered stillborn cubs before this birth. What went differently?
When she went into labor, she just had complications. When we intervened, the cubs hadn't survived. Obviously she recovered from the surgery and has done well since then. This time, we had this date marked on the calendar based on conception and a lion's normal gestation period. We just put it on the calendar and decided we were going to do it this day unless she went into labor sooner. Then we were going to go into a C-section at
that time.
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The cub will one day be 250 pounds.
Dallas Zoo

How is the mother doing?
The mother, Lina, had actually never seen a live cub before. The fact that we were able to successfully introduce the cub back to Lina, and then to take it another step further that the cub has been nursing and Lina has been a really spectacular mom, has far exceeded any expectations that we had of the situation. Lina actually hand raised herself, so she doesn't have any experiences that a parent-raised lion would have. Yeah, she's just done a really amazing job, and the cub's doing awesome, and they're doing really well together.

How much is the staff involved with the baby now?
Beyond separating for weighing, we have very little interaction with the cub. Literally just a couple minutes, three to four times a week to get a weight on the cub. Otherwise, everything that we're watching, we're monitoring via cameras, because they're in this den box, kind of like their little house, inside the bigger lion enclosure. They kind of keep the cubs contained and it makes Lina feel like she's separated from everybody else and feel secure. It's really important to us that Lina's able to bond with the cub, and learn how to be a good mom. We're just kind of letting Lina do her own thing.

"In the next week or so, we're going to start what we call the howdy process."

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So, Behati and Lina will live together?
That's our plan. Lions, unlike other cats, are social animals. We're hoping that Bahati will be able to stay with her mom and her aunt hopefully for a really long time. Part of that is dependent on the Species Survival Plan recommendation, whether or not they think that Bahati needs to move to a different institution for breeding or if it's best for her to stay here with them. [Ed. note: The Association of Zoos and Aquariums created the SSP to help ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums.]
Where is the dad, Kamau, in all of this?
He is still there at the building, but it's normal and natural practice for the mom and the baby to stay separated for a few weeks until the baby's a little bit bigger and is more mobile. In the next week or so, we're going to start what we call the howdy process, where the aunt and the dad will be able to look at the cub through a mesh door, so they can kind of go, "Oh, look at you. Aren't you cool?" Then from there in a few weeks, we will introduce the other adults to the cub. That will be a few weeks down the road.

How big will Bahati get?
As a full grown adult female lion weighs about 250 pounds. Right now, she's what, like four and a half pounds or something.