This is the second post in a two-part series about the introduction of the lion cubs to their father, Makini. Read part one.
By the end of September, Makini had spent a couple of weeks visiting with Tajiri and the cubs across a mesh barrier. They were able to see, smell and simply spend time resting in close proximity to one another. During the day, while Tajiri and the cubs were outdoors, they also had access to the mesh panel with Makini in the bedroom space. Tajiri would often choose to lay just inside the door against the panel with Makini while watching the cubs play or nap outside. As all members of the family became comfortable, we planned to allow Makini in the same space without the mesh barrier.
Introductions of this type initially take place in the indoor holding areas. In this space, a select number of staff can help facilitate the introduction in a quieter, safer and more controlled environment. It is important that the primary staff is familiar to the animals and that the space is calm. As we had hoped when we first opened the door, Tajiri was very quick to take control of the situation. Makini took a step back and Tajiri crossed the threshold to both greet him and let him know that he should be gentle with the cubs. It was very helpful that Tajiri knew her role, as four babies appeared to be overwhelming to this first-time father.
For the first several days, the period of time that they spent together in the bedrooms was short and continually monitored by keeper staff. After the first week, although Makini was comfortable with Tajiri and responded to her cues, he was not always as gentle and tolerant of the mob of cubs as he needed to be to move outside with the group. Keeper staff continued to monitor behavior and give the family breaks from each other as needed for several weeks. Finally, on November 10, it seemed like the right time to give them all outdoor access together.
The first thing Makini did when entering the yard with his family was patrol it to defend them. It was amazing to see. He later settled down against the viewing glass to take a nap, and the cubs approached to join him. It was the first time that he allowed a cub to lean against him while sleeping.
Tajiri remains alert, moving to communicate between the cubs and their sire. We also set up barriers at the public viewing glass to give the family some additional space at first. While we continually monitor Makini for calm and appropriate behavior, we also bring him in a bit early to separate him for his dinner and bedtime. The cubs still sleep every night in the nursery den with mom, and then they rejoin Makini each morning in the yard. We have been delighted that the family has been able to spend this time together.
By Kay Buffamonte, KeyBank Big Cat Falls Lead Keeper