Caring for Cubs: A Round-The-Clock Commitment

Written By: Scarlett Rockhold, Communications Manager at Zoo Knoxville

Christmas came early on December 21st with the birth of two lion cubs. When African lion Amara began showing signs of labor, her care team noticed she was in distress and the delivery was not progressing as it should. The vet staff from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine was called in to intervene and an emergency c-section was performed. Thanks to the quick action the lives of Amara and two of her cubs were saved.

African lions are a vulnerable species and their population in the wild is steadily decreasing. It is the job of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to maintain a healthy genetic population in order to prevent their extinction. Now zoo staff had an important decision to be make; do they raise the cubs or let Amara attempt to nurse them?

In an ideal situation, the cubs would be returned to Amara to raise, but she had just undergone major surgery. How would the cubs nurse around her incision? When she came out of anesthesia would she be disoriented and inadvertently hurt the cubs? All these factors, combined with her inexperience as a mother, did not provide the best opportunity for the cubs to get the nutrition and care they would need to thrive.

The survival of these two cubs is important. They will contribute new genetics to ensure the health of the population for the future. Hand raising the cubs would be the best way for the cubs to thrive, so that was the decision that was reached.

Much like raising a newborn baby, lion cubs require round-the-clock care. The cubs require bottle feedings every two hours in the first few weeks. This means staff members in charge of their care are sacrificing a lot of sleep to ensure these cubs stay healthy. It’s all worth it to see these cubs gaining strength and developing their personalities.

We are happy to report that the cubs are in fact thriving thanks to the dedication of the carnivore team here at Zoo Knoxville. They are weighed everyday to guarantee steady weight gain and the vet staff checks in on them each week.

While the cubs currently have a dedicated room in the clinic, they will eventually join the other lions in the Valley of the Kings courtyard. Once the courtyard is baby-proofed, that is! Before the cubs can be transferred, the courtyard must be safe for these little ones. Just like with human babies, keepers will make sure the area is set up to accommodate little lions, such as making sure the water troughs are not too deep for them and the climbing platforms are at safe heights.

As the cubs continue to grow, the carnivore team will determine if the best course of action is to introduce them to the pride with Amara and their father Uppepo. Until then, Zoo staff will continue their dedication to making sure these cubs thrive. We will be sure to update on when they will be making their pubic debut!