COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There could be lion cubs at Riverbanks Zoo sooner than later.
Why? More than six months after two female lions arrived at the zoo, they are now on exhibit with beloved male lion Zuri.
"They gave us all the right signs and all the right body language that they were ready to meet each other," said Alexa Godfrey, a cat & bear keeper at the zoo. "So, we went ahead and opened the doors."
Their reaction to one another was what keepers expected but may come as a surprise to zoo goers. Back in September as we followed the lions' progress, female Thebisa and male Zuri took one another behind the barriers. Now the tables have turned.
"He has claimed Lindelani right now as kind of the focused animal for the week," John Davis, curator of mammals at Riverbanks, said. "He is kind of exerting his control, and he's a dominant male and he's establishing his pride."
Keepers say that's common, especially if a female is in the state in which she wants to breed.
"Lions come into a reproductive period called estrus and it lasts for four to seven days when they're receptive to the male for breeding and for becoming pregnant," Davis said. "Lindelani is going through that right now."
That means Zuri is keeping everyone else away, including Lindelani's sister Thebisa.
"This is exactly what they're supposed to do," said Godfrey. "Zuri right now does not have a male that he would normally guard his females against, so Thebisa is the only one available to sort of interpret that behavior on. So he's kind of guarding Lindelani from Thebisa as he would a normal outside male in the wild."
Keepers are hoping once Lindelani is out of estrus, Thebisa will have a chance to bond with Zuri, as well. But for now, they continue to watch closely, as the pride gets its first chance to become established.
"We are so happy," said Godfrey. "This is the best case scenario. They are all out here, no one's hurting each other, they're all seeming to get along and they're doing exactly what lions do. We can't ask for more than that."
Keepers say they are still watching the process closely and if they have any concerns, they may separate the animals as they see fit.
For now, you should see all the animals together on exhibit and because they are breeding we could see lion cubs at Riverbanks sooner than later. A lion's gestational period is pretty short, too, just about 110 days.