The National Zoo is pleased to report that Shera, one of their African lions, gave birth to a healthy litter of four lion cubs between 10:30 pm Monday evening and early Tuesday morning. The large litter (most have two to four cubs) comes on the heels of the unfortunate death in May of the National Zoo's first lion cub in twenty years.
"We're so excited," says zoo keeper Kristen Clark. "Shera is being an outstanding mom. She's very tolerant of climbing all over her, and she's being very cautious. She'll pick them up and move them into a pile, but with four of them it's hard to keep track of everybody."
Lions are the most social of the large felines. They run in prides, a group of mostly females and their cubs led by a small number of males. For the past six months, the zoo has been trying to create a pride by socializing Shera and her sister, Nababiep, with a male, Luke. The lions mated and Nababiep gave birth in May. The cub later died of pneumonia due to a straw seed lodged in its lung.
Despite this initial setback for the Zoo, Shera's four cubs appear healthy and mobile, and it looks as though they have nursed successfully, feeding two at a time and playfully fighting over what Clark calls "the preferred nipple." The zoo has switched to a softer hay with less seeds for the cubs' bedding to avoid another injury.
Shera and the cubs will be kept in a private area with their mother until the new mother appears comfortable enough to introduce her cubs to the other lions, probably within the next two months. This emulates a similar process in the wild, where female lions separate from the pride to give birth, rejoining them when the cubs are old enough to meet the other lions.
Now it looks like Shera's cubs won't be alone—Nababiep is confirmed to be pregnant again, and will be due later this month. "Our hope is that Shera's cubs and Naba's cubs will be able to all go out and be exhibited together," says Clark.
The cubs won't be out on exhibit for a while yet, but the Zoo's YouTube page has put up this short video clip of Shera with her litter. So far, it looks like the National Zoo is well on their way to having a large and healthy pride.