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VISITORS: Despite the government shutdown, the Zoo is OPEN Sunday, Jan. 21 and Monday, Jan. 22. The Smithsonian can use prior year funds still available to us to do so. We will update our status beyond Monday as soon as we know. 
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Lion Update Jan 15, 2012

lions lined up along poolEver since the lion cubs celebrated their first birthdays, things among the pride have remained status quo—but changes are on the horizon. Don't worry, no one is leaving right now. In fact, we don't have any relocation recommendations for the youngsters just yet. However, if you've visited during the past several months you have probably noticed some odd behaviors among the cubs. It almost looks like they are trying to breed! Well, they aren't breeding yet but these guys are juveniles, and experimenting with breeding-related behaviors is not unusual. Lions are generally considered to be mature around the age of three years old, but have successfully bred in captivity as early as two. The behaviors we are observing are harmless for now, but keepers are preparing to begin the process of separating the juvenile males from the rest of the pride during the winter.

The Great Cats team plans on keeping the separation process gradual in order to minimize stress. We'll keep you posted about the process and timing as we go. To start, lion keeper Rebecca Stites will be monitoring the behaviors of the juvenile males for a couple of weeks before the separation process begins.

Starting January 2, volunteers from the lion behavior watch team have been posted in front of the lion yard to record data on the juvenile males. Behaviors related to social interactions, territorial markings, anxiety, and environmental interactions will be noted every four minutes. Once the males are separated from the pride, Rebecca and the behavior watch team will repeat the study for comparison.

We hope you'll come by to observe their behaviors too, but please refrain from interrupting the behavior watchers (the nice people carrying clipboards). It takes a lot of concentration to keep track of multiple animals moving around the yard. Keepers (wearing grey shirts and khakis) and Zoo Guides (wearing red shirts-- without clipboards) are often visible passing by the lion yard and are always happy to answer questions you may have during your visit!

Wondering how much the Zoo's young lions have grown during the past couple of months? Lusaka and Fahari are currently tied for smallest at 216 pounds while Baruti is in the lead—weighing in at 272 pounds! That's the size of our full-grown male Sumatran tiger, Guntur! It's no wonder with all the food they are eating. These guys scarf down about eight to ten pounds per day. Think that's a lot? Our entire pride consumes nearly 600 pounds of food each week!!!

Stay tuned—updates will be coming a bit more quickly over the next few months as our pride begins to change.