Photo by Tina Yee, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Written by Jeffrey Blackwell, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
If dad is the king of the jungle, then the Seneca Park Zoo's two new residents are the prince and princess.
Two lion cubs, born March 7 to zoo lions Asha and Chester, are being cared for in a nursery and are expected to join their parents in the A Step Into Africa exhibit some time after Memorial Day.
The cubs weigh about 10 pounds and were part of a litter of four. Two of the cubs died, but the two surviving cubs, one male and one female, are eating well, gaining weight and getting frisky.
"We went through some critical times with these cubs," said Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, who announced the new arrivals Thursday. "It's a nurturing process and we want to make sure they grow into healthy, young cubs that can be on display and can stay with us for up to two years."
The two other cubs survived two weeks. Zoo officials said Asha was having difficulty caring for and feeding the litter, resulting in the deaths. In consultation with the Lion Species Survival Plan Program, the Seneca Park Zoo's animal care staff was forced to make the decision to separate the cubs from their mother and hand-raise them.
This decision became necessary when the mother stopped nursing and caring for her babies. Zoo officials said the cubs were not hurt or attacked by the adult lions, who are first-time parents.
The SSP is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions.
"It was a difficult decision to remove the cubs, but it was the right thing to do because Asha wasn't showing signs of being able to care for her cubs," said zoo director Larry Sorel. "Because our lions' genetics are so valuable to lions in conservation care, it was important we do everything we could to ensure their survival."
The two surviving cubs are now thriving and gaining weight and will soon be weaned off the bottled milk, fed to them by zoo staff, so they can start eating meat.
The cubs do not have names, and the exact date when they will be on public display was not specified. Naming the cubs will be the task of the community during a community-wide contest. Information about the contest will be released in the coming weeks, zoo officials said.
"This brother and sister will be a tremendous addition to A Step into Africa," Brooks said. "Last year we had record attendance when we welcomed the adult lions."
The zoo received three African lions in December 2011 from an animal park outside Pretoria, South Africa. The male was born in September 2010, and the females were born in September 2010 and January 2011.
The cubs are part of a national breeding program and will eventually go to another zoo.