WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's really the moment we've all been waiting for.
The trio of lion cubs - born to lioness Thabisa in April, made their debut on their exhibit this week and for the first time stepped those sweet little paws in the dirt.
"Animal births always are very exciting for Riverbanks and the community," said John Davis, director of animal care and welfare at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden at the time of their birth announcement. "Thabisa is being a great mom. She is bonding well with her offspring and nursing is going exactly as it should."
The lion cubs have spent the last three months growing and capturing the attention of a growing fan base on their popular cub cam on the zoo's website before making their debut Wednesday.
Their April 10 birth followed a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) African Lion Species Survival Plan® (SSP). For nearly 40 years, SSPs have ensured the continued existence of African lions and other endangered wildlife through breeding and transfer plans among AZA-accredited organizations. Because of the leadership, care and dedication of AZA professionals, the managed African lion population has risen to nearly 400 animals—297 of which are pedigreed.
All three female cubs are young, so they will only be on exhibit for short periods of time to go back inside and nap.
"I was actually really shocked. I thought they'd be more nervous but these girls are rambunctious. They came out here and they were running around and playing," mammal keeper Catherine Connell said. "They were out for about 45 minutes and when they came inside they were passed out and asleep, so they'll get some good naps today."
The lion cubs have not been named, but all display lively personalities. The public will have an opportunity to help name the cubs - you can click here to submit your vote from the listed names.
The biggest hurdles will be introducing the lion cubs to the rest of the pride - but spent time on exhibit with Zuri, the male lion, on Wednesday.
"The process of introducing lions is a little tedious, a little nerve-wracking, a little scary. But we had all the right people working on this project to have a seamless introduction," Davis said. "In the meantime, we get to celebrate a bit and enjoy the cubs out on exhibit for the first time today."
Want to watch the live stream of the lion cubs? Click here.