The Oklahoma City Zoo's newest lion is the animal equivalent of an awkward teenager with a bad haircut, but he's fitting in just fine.
Hubert, a 19-month-old African lion, came to Oklahoma City by way of the Milwaukee Zoo, where he was born.
He doesn't sit at the top of the hill at the lion enclosure and roar, as longtime zoo favorite Aslan did when he was alive, but every day Hubert feels a little more at home.
Hubert arrived in early November.
He was quarantined for a month, something the zoo does with most of its animals. He is gradually being introduced to the yard and to Tia and Bridgette, the zoo's 12-year-old female lions.
“He's pretty well-behaved for a large cat,” carnivore supervisor Jeff Rife said. “We're letting him tell us what we can do with him next. He's actually been very good to work with. He's progressed quickly compared to some of the other cats we've had.”
Hubert eats about 6 pounds of meat a day, and at times he's fed frozen rabbits to mimic what he would see in the wild.
The bones also help clean his teeth.
Hubert weighs about 300 pounds, but could be as large as 450 pounds when fully grown.
Hubert hasn't been face-to-face with Bridgette and Tia, but that day is coming. They can already see each other from their indoor enclosure. Hubert has done well with his training.
“He can come back to us when we call him,” Rife said. “That's useful when we want him to come in when we want to let the girls out into the yard. He knows how to move from cage to cage when we clean. He's a pretty fast learner.”
There are 175 African lions in zoos across North America.
Hubert was placed at the zoo through the Association of Zoo and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. The goal is to pair the right lion with the right zoo.
“There's a lot of science involved in the placement,” curator Darcy Henthorn said. “That's all part of sustainability. It's very rare that animals are taken out of the wild anymore, so we have to work within that population to get the best genetics we can.”
The goal is for Hubert to mate with one or both the females, though at this point that may be a long shot.
Bridgette and Tia would be considered on the old side if they were in the wild. Both are near the end of their ability to breed.
“Even if he doesn't produce any offspring, we want our groups to be naturally occurring socially,” Henthorn said. “That's for his welfare and their welfare. But Hubert would have come to us whether he breeds or not.”
Rife said even after the introductions are made, it may take time for Hubert to feel comfortable enough to breed, given his new surroundings and the age difference.
“He'll probably need more time to get acclimated,” Rife said. “They have to be together, and right now they're not. He has the capability to breed but whether it happens or not, we just don't know.”
To learn more
For more information about the Oklahoma City Zoo, 2101 NE 50, call 424-3344 or go to www.okc