Whether kids call the lion Simba or Xerxes doesn’t really matter.
What matters is they’re paying attention, said Tara Henson, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Zoo.
"Kids are tuned-in to that sort of thing,” Henson said. "You’ll hear little kids. They may say ‘Simba’ if they don’t know the names of our lion cubs.”
The popularity of "The Lion King” musical, playing through May 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall, has piqued kids’ interest in the real-life versions of their favorite characters. Visitors to the Oklahoma City Zoo in the past few weeks have been paying closer attention to animals they’ve seen on stage. Some of the most adored "Lion King” look-alikes: lion cubs Kalliope, Malaika, Zari and Xerxes.
Visitors have been talking about "Lion King” characters including meerkat Timon, warthog Pumbaa and lion Simba on zoo grounds. While some animals are more popular because of their heroic "Lion King” characters, some villainous characters get a bad rap.
"We have to remind them hyenas are not bad,” Henson said, laughing.
The popularity of animal-oriented entertainment helps raise awareness of conservation, Henson said. TV shows such as "Meerkat Manor” and movies such as "The Lion King” raise interest in wildlife, especially among children. The result is what Henson hopes is an increase in awareness, education and, ultimately, conservation.
"That allows for an opportunity for people to engage in nature more and to learn more,” she said. "That’s definitely a positive.”