New pride of the zoo: Lion cubs

The Philadelphia Zoo has four new youngsters: African lion cubs born June 26. (iStock)

The Philadelphia Zoo has four new youngsters: African lion cubs born June 26.

The zoo made the annoucement today.

It's the first litter for the two adults - Tajiri and her mate, Makini - and the first African lion cubs born at the zoo since 1996.

Visitors won't get to see the cubs for a few months, alas. Even zoo staffers try to leave the mom and her offspring alone, monitoring their activities in their private den via video camera.

Tajiri almost didn't live long enough to get pregnant. A year and a half ago she was near death with what turned out to be blastomycosis, a serious fungal infection that is rare in this region. (Her mother, it turned out, had died of the fungus at a zoo in Wisconsin, where it is common.)

Lions are listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN _ the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Major threats to the species include villagers killing themn to protect livestock and depletion of their prey _ wildebeest, impala, zebras, buffalo and warthogs.

To support wild lions, the zoo has partnered with the Ongava Research Centre, one of the largest private reserves in Namibia. It monitors lions on the Ongava Game Reserve to better understand how they form groups and how those groups expand and ultimately disperse, according to the zoo.

For updates on the cubs or to adopt (as in contribute to its care, not as in take it home) an African lion, visit

Cool facts about lions from the zoo's website:

  • Lions spend more than 80 percent of their time conserving energy. Conserving energy is important for animals that are big and bulky and that live in areas where getting food is challenging. As a result, lions spend up to 20 hours a day resting or sleeping.
  • Two distinctive features set lions apart from all other wild cats; they are social felines (other cats are typically solitary in the wild) and they are the only cats to exhibit a distinction between males and females - males have a mane.
  • Another unique feature of lions is their tongues. They have short, horny backward pointing hooks on the upper surface which aids in grooming and for holding and lacerating food.
  • Lions have nine distinct vocalizations including roars, grunts and growls. The position of their hyoid apparatus, a bone at the base of the skull, means lions can only purr when they exhale. Pride members also rub cheeks when they meet.