Zoo's growing pride: Lion Kya gives birth to four cubs

September 8, 2014 - 4:25pm

First-time mom and her babies are doing well so far, according to keepers

Kya, a 7-year-old African lion at the Oregon Zoo, gave birth to four healthy lion cubs today.

According to keepers, the cubs entered the world Sept. 8 between about 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The first-time mom and her new family are doing well in their behind-the-scenes maternity den. The litter represents the first offspring for Kya and Zawadi Mungu, the cubs' 6-year-old father.

"They're moving around a lot, and it's clear that they have a lot of energy."

—Laura Weiner, Senior Africa Keeper

"We're very excited for Kya to get the chance to be a mom," said Laura Weiner, senior keeper for the zoo's Africa area. "And it's great to see her taking such good care of her babies. There are always concerns — especially with first-time moms — and we're giving her as much quiet time as possible. To this point though she seems to be taking to motherhood quite naturally."

Weiner said the new mother cleaned her cubs off right away and is allowing them to nurse. Cubs typically weigh about 3 pounds at birth and are born blind, their eyes opening within a week or two. The average litter size for African lions is two to five cubs.

"All four cubs appear to be thriving," Weiner said. "They're moving around a lot, and it's clear that they have a lot of energy."

Kya and her cubs are off exhibit in a private maternity den to allow the new family a comfortable place to bond, and keepers plan to give them complete privacy for up to a week. As with Neka last year, animal-care staff have taken a hands-off approach, but are closely monitoring the litter to make sure everything is going well.

After several days — depending on Kya's comfort level — staff may try to go in for a quick veterinary checkup on the litter, at which time they would be able to determine the cubs' genders. In about six to eight weeks, if the cubs are healthy and continue to thrive, animal-care staff will evaluate whether they are ready for a public debut.

"We'll be watching the cubs closely over the next several weeks to assess their development," said Chris Pfefferkorn, zoo deputy director. "The first couple of days are especially important. Our staff has been completely dedicated to giving Kya everything she needed for a successful birth. Thankfully, she hasn't needed much help from us. So far, she is doing a great job on her own."

Kya, Neka and Zawadi all came to the Oregon Zoo in 2009 based on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for African lions. Zawadi, the male, came from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the adult females, Neka and Kya, came from the Virginia Zoo and Wisconsin's Racine Zoo respectively.

The AZA has established Species Survival Plans for many threatened or endangered species — cooperative breeding programs that help create genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of animals. These SSPs also support relevant field projects, research and public education to help prevent animal endangerment and extinction.

"Just two decades ago, lions were plentiful in much of Africa," Weiner said. "But today they are vanishing at alarming rates. The wild lion population is estimated to have dropped by 75 percent since 1990. Hopefully, we can start a new chapter in lion conservation."

The Oregon Zoo supports Living with Lions, a conservation research group working to protect Africa's dwindling lion populations by employing Maasai warriors to monitor and help reduce human conflict with predators.