Lion Cubs at Smithsonian's National Zoo Test Out Yard and Receive Names

Seven lion cubs born at the National Zoo are now sporting seven names. Just before the cubs made their debut in the lion yard this morning, the Zoo announced their names: John, Fahari, Zuri, Lelie, Baruti, Aslan, and Lusaka.

“We were touched to receive so many thoughtful name suggestions for the cubs from so many different sources,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Zoo. “Each of the seven final names has a special meaning or connection that the cubs will carry with them during their time here at the National Zoo.”

The names of Shera’s cubs, which were born August 31, are:

  • John: The sole male in the litter is named after John Berry, who was the Zoo’s director from 2006 to early 2009 and is currently director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Berry helped to bring the cub’s mother Shera, aunt Nababiep and father Luke to the Zoo in 2006.
  • Fahari (fah-HAH-ree): The National Zoo advisory board chose Fahari, which means “magnificent” in Swahili, for this cub. Keepers say that early in life she was the big eater among both litters and for a long time was larger than all of the other cubs, including her brother. Although that has changed recently, keepers are confident that she will continue to be bigger than life.
  • Zuri (ZUH-ree): The Friends of the National Zoo board chose the name Zuri for this female cub. Zuri means “beautiful” in Swahili. The lion keepers say it is a fitting name for a cub whose coat is thicker, plusher, and redder than the others in the pride.
  • Lelie (la-LEE-ay): Lelie is the winning female name submitted by a first-grade classroom at Marshall Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, in the Name a Cub: Cam Contest, which the Zoo hosted with the Washington Post. Lelie is Afrikaans for “lily,” and the students selected it because lilies are common at Kruger Park, which is the largest national park in South Africa and provides refuge to about 2,000 African lions.

The names of Nababiep's cubs, which were born September 22, are:

  • Baruti (ba-ROO-tee): Baruti is the winning male name submitted by a daycare class at Bright Horizons Child Care & Education at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., in the Name a Cub: Cam Contest. Baruti is an African name meaning “teacher,” which the class thought was appropriate for a lion that keepers describe as “quiet” and “calm.”
  • Aslan: This cub received his name December 10, when Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes, actors in The Chronicles of Narnia movies, visited the Zoo to reveal that the cub would be named Aslan after the lion in the films.
  • Lusaka (lu-SAH-ka): The name Lusaka holds a special place at the Zoo—it is the name of the beloved 18-year-old lioness that died at the Zoo last January. The lion keepers decided it would be a nice tribute to the lion who they considered the matriarch of the lion/tiger house and describe as having an “overload of personality.” Keepers picked this cub in particular because she was Nababieps’s sole female cub, and sometimes they see the older Lusaka reflected in Nababiep’s disposition

Both litters were sired by Luke, who was the Zoo’s sole male lion until the birth of the cubs. The two litters are the result of years of careful research and observation and the first for the Zoo in more than 20 years. Starting December 20, lion keepers will decide on a day-to-day basis whether the cubs will spend any time in the yard, how long they will be out and when. This decision will be based on weather and how the cubs adjust to being outdoors.

Lions are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as the result of climate change, hunting and habitat loss.