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Incredible Global Conservation Effort Marked By Housewarming Party For African Lion Trio

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    It's a relatively slow introduction process for animals who haven't been together before. During one of the day's "Keeper Chats," Assistant Curator of Africa Emily Spence explained that Ansel will be acclimated over a months-long process with Asha and Kali, who just completed a 30-day transfer quarantine. Zoo caregivers will keep them separated and switch their time in certain areas so they can only hear each first and will be rotated weekly to get to know their surroundings. Progressively, they will be able to see each other from distances, then closer in neighboring indoor stalls.

    By the end of the summer, Emily hopes they will be together full time. Already, though, Ansel shows signs that he's eager for a face-to-face meeting. "Ansel talks a lot to the ladies," she said.

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    Emily iterated that lions, along with tigers and jaguars, cannot purr and speak with each other through various grunts and roars. Lions, tigers, and jaguars, all a part of the genus Panthera, have cartilage in their neck called a hyoid apparatus that differs from that of a cheetah or housecat, according to a paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Nevertheless, Asha and Kali don't do much conversing yet, admittedly. The lionesses "don't talk back to [Ansel] much," Emily stated. "We're hoping it'll happen eventually."

    Lions are the only species of the family Felidae that form social groups. All others, including friendly housecats, typically only come together for breeding purposes. Regardless, there are some reports of lions choosing to live the bachelor lifestyle. 

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    Since Asha and Kali are sisters, they have a good base for beginning to form a pride. Up to 30 lions can create a pride, mostly of related females and their offspring. Generally, Emily explained, only four or so males will be included.

    Ansel will have a big responsibility in front of him: protecting the pride. While this may not be as critical in a sanctuary setting as in the wild, he will still be very protective of his fellow lionesses, the huntresses of the pride and cub caregivers.

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    The Virginia Zoo doesn't have the vast savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa, so Asha and Kali, 300 and 350 pounds respectively, won't be hunting antelope, wildebeest, or zebras. But they will join Ansel pouncing on geese brave enough to land on the grass. Lions can jump up to 37 feet and sprint up to 50 mph in short bursts, so the geese are outmatched on land. However, Emily explained that "the geese have learned that if they go in the water, the lions aren't likely going after them." Their natural habitat doesn't include many bodies of water, so like many housecats, they have an aversion to baths.

    Apart from those natural enrichment items, the Virginia Zoo rounded out Ansel, Asha, and Kali's Housewarming Party with more gifts purchased and donated by zoo fans and enthusiasts, including, interestingly enough, fragrances. 

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    While Ansel loves the super-sized chew toys and hard rubber balls to lay on, the females love the scents and fragrances. Emily expressed that Asha and Kali's favorite is cumin, "but all of them "go crazy for [cumin], and rub it all over themselves."

    "The stronger the scent, the better," she added. "I've known ones that really like Obsession for men."

    Although the females may be preoccupied with colognes, their male counterpart still wants attention. Ansel, the 450-pound five-year-old, will rely on his big, beautiful mane to swoon Asha and Kali.

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    Lions are the only sexually dimorphic species of cats. Males use their manes to attract mates, with bigger, darker, and fuller manes representing "[a lion's] best way of showing off how strong and how good of a provider they would be" to a lioness. "Ansel has this big, gorgeous mane, so he's going to be popular with our two females," Emily added.

     

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About the Author

Mariel is the resident cat lady, and she's very serious about that role. Her cat is always curled up on her lap during Zoom meetings, and yes, she will call attention to it and make sure everyone notices. Second only to cats, writing is her passion. It only makes sense that she writes content about animals for a living. She also likes nature, excessively large mugs of coffee, and lemony deserts.

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About the Author

Mariel is the resident cat lady, and she's very serious about that role. Her cat is always curled up on her lap during Zoom meetings, and yes, she will call attention to it and make sure everyone notices. Second only to cats, writing is her passion. It only makes sense that she writes content about animals for a living. She also likes nature, excessively large mugs of coffee, and lemony deserts.