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Lion Update Jul 15, 2012

With the lion cubs second birthdays rapidly approaching, we are starting to receive official recommendations from the African lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) about where the youngsters will start their adult lives.

We recently confirmed that Aslan and Baruti will be heading to Calgary Zoo this summer. The date of their departure has not been determined just yet, but could be as early as July. There are several factors that need to be considered before locking down a travel date: permits for the furry kiddos to travel internationally, booking of climate-controlled transportation for the duration of the trip, and the successful separation of Aslan and Baruti from their half-brother, John.

The separation process is already in progress. Separation process— Although we'd like the boys to have as much time together as possible before a departure takes place, we think it's important to leave enough time to gradually separate these bonded boys to minimize their anxiety. We started about two weeks ago by separating John from Aslan and Baruti overnight, in adjacent dens where they could visit at a howdy door. Next, John was moved to a den that was adjacent to Luke instead of his brothers—and the boys were reunited during the day. Last week, Aslan and Baruti started spending part of their time outside alone and part of their time outside reunited with John. John handled the indoor separation well, but seems a little uncertain about the daytime separation from his half-brothers. If you have visited the lions lately you may have observed John pacing near the door or calling to his brothers. We feel confident that John will adjust to the change soon and are pleased that Luke continues to appreciate the company of his oldest son. The next logical step left in the separation process will be a complete separation, but we'll wait for John to become more comfortable with the current situation before continuing with the process.

The departure of Alsan and Baruti will be bittersweet, to say the least. It was amazing to have witnessed their first moments of life and to have watched them grow into beautiful young adults (technically these guys are considered "sub-adults" for another couple of years). That said, we know that the next step of their lives is an exciting one: they are going to be introduced to two females at Calgary Zoo and will hopefully build a pride of their own someday. As soon as we confirm the date of their departure, we'll let everyone know.

The SSP also believes that another zoo may be ready to welcome Zuri and Fahari in the near future. Stay tuned for information about where they may go!

Wondering what the African lion Species Survival Plan is? It's basically a managed breeding and transfer program for the 340 African lions living in facilities across North America which are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Information about each individual (including pedigree) is tracked by one person, called a studbook keeper. This information is sent to a population biologist for analysis. The population biologist then works with the African lion species coordinator to develop the breeding and transfer plan for the year. This plan summarizes the current demographic and genetic status of the population and identifies breeding or non-breeding recommendations with consideration given to each lions social and biological needs as well transfer feasibility. These recommendations are designed to maintain or increase a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically stable population of lions. Many of the animal species you visit at the National Zoo are part of a SSP of their own!