The return of the lion — at Utah's Hogle Zoo's new African Savannah exhibit

By Heather Tuttle

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 2 2014 4:05 p.m. MDT

Close up of Nabu at Hogle Zoo. May 13, 2014.

Heather L. Tuttle, Deseret News

It’s been nearly a decade since the roar of a lion has been heard in the foothills of Salt Lake City. That all changed last month when the new African Savannah exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo opened, and a pair of 3-year-old males, Baron and Vulcan, made their debut. A few days later, two lionesses, Seyla and Nabu, were given their turn to explore.

For now the males and females will be kept separate and rotate in the main yard. The females, who were born in November 2012, are still too young to join the males. According to their keepers, Tonya Matelski and Valerie Schubert, the sisters will be ready to form a pride with Vulcan and Baron when they’re close to adulthood — around age 2.

Last week Matelski and Schubert answered questions about lions that were submitted to the Deseret News by kids ages 4-13.

Does it (the lion at the zoo) roar? - Aidan, 5

Yes. You can hear it from five miles away. As they get more comfortable with their environment, they are roaring more.

Do lions purr or like to be petted and sit in boxes or be told they are pretty? - Cleo, 8

The definition of a large cat is one that doesn’t purr. So if you can roar you can’t purr, and if you purr you don’t roar. The biggest cat that can purr is the mountain lion or cheetah.

We do tell them that (they are pretty). They don’t like to be touched or petted. They will be affectionate with each other. But the most they will give us is sitting here, showing that they like to be near us. Boxes, sure; they like to play with them.

What do the lions in the zoo eat? - Ruby, 5

They are strict carnivores. So they are on an all-meat diet. They get pieces of raw steak and different kinds of (animal) organs.

What is the biggest prey that a lion eats? - Hailee, 8

They can specialize in hunting elephants. It isn’t common, but lions that know what they are doing can take down an elephant or giraffe. More common is a zebra or wildebeest.

What do they get for treats? - Katy, 11

Bones are the most treasured possession they can get, which is really good for them because it helps clean their teeth.

Do you ever brush their teeth? - Sydney, 7

No. The bones really do that for us and help maintain their teeth and gum health.

Do lions have to see a dentist for their big teeth? - Rebekah, 9

Yes, they do. Our veterinarians here are able to do any dental work on them. They can do a root canal or anything they might need.

How old do they get? - Kaycee, 11

An average of 20 years in captivity. In the wild half that — maybe 16.

How long are lions pregnant? - Elijah, 4

Gestation for a lion lasts four months — 110 days.

How many babies can a lion have at one time? Do they live together in a family? - Rebekah, 9

An average of 2-4, but anywhere up to 1-7.

Males get kicked out of the pride about age 2.

Do lions have a leader? - Rebekah, 9

They will have a more dominant male, but the males all play a role in the pride. So there isn’t just one male that will breed or protect.

How much do the biggest lions weigh? - Hailee, 8

Up to 550 pounds. They are the second-largest cat, only beaten in size by the Amur Tiger.

Why do they have manes? - Taylor, 10

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