Three lion brothers to move from Naples to 'bachelor pad' in Brevard Zoo's Wild Florida
A trio of African lion brothers — Chobe, Karoo and Ruaha — are set to become showpiece maned attractions at Brevard Zoo.
The furry 2-year-old great cats live at Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. Crews in Viera are wrapping up construction on a temporary "bachelor pad" in the Wild Florida loop, as described in a Brevard Zoo membership brochure.
“I think it will be very, very popular. Because, obviously, the one complaint we've heard over the years is, ‘Where're the lions and tigers and bears?’ " Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten said.
"Having lions will be as exciting a species as we can add, especially three males in this very beautiful exhibit. I think they'll have a huge impact," he said.
If all goes well, Winsten said the lion pride may move from Naples to Viera later this month.
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Chobe, Karoo and Ruaha were born amid fanfare in May 2019 to their mother, Shani. The lion brothers are named for three national parks in Africa. Naples Zoo officials conducted a naming contest that drew more than 2,000 responses.
"At almost 3 years old, the boys are typical teenagers. Their manes are coming in nicely — and they like to destroy most enrichment items they are given," said Elizabeth Johnson, Naples Zoo animal care supervisor.
"Ruaha has a calm presence and is quick to learn new behaviors during training sessions. Karoo is feisty and the most vocal of the three, while Chobe can be apprehensive but also pretty eager to learn," Johnson said.
They were the first lion cubs born at Naples Zoo in more than 30 years, said Courtney Jolly, director of public relations and marketing.
After years of planning, Brevard Zoo is also joining the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ lion species survival breeding program.
The temporary lion home in the Wild Florida loop lies between the bobcat area and the Florida black bear habitat, which debuted in April 2019.
Winsten said zoo officials will soon seek construction bids for a future, permanent Expedition Africa lion habitat in the space occupied by Pepper, an aging cheetah. Construction should last about a year, and Pepper will move elsewhere in the zoo after construction wraps up.
“Right now, our Africa loop is a two-way dead end. It ends at the lemur platform. We will (build) a boardwalk from the lemur platform down around the waters back to what's currently the cheetah viewing platform. So we will turn that into a loop,” Winsten said.
“I think the size of the permanent lion exhibit is like 13,000 square feet. It's quite large. And that will provide a wonderful permanent home for lions. You'll be able to look out and see lions and zebra and rhinos, even though they're not sharing the same exhibit," he said.
After the lion brothers settle into Expedition Africa, Winsten said their temporary home in Wild Florida will be retrofitted to house Florida panthers or more rescued bears.
Brevard Zoo's annual race across the 75-acre property — the aptly named Lion Lope 3K — takes place on Feb. 12. Conducted by the Running Zone Foundation, last year's giraffe-themed race drew 966 registered runners and walkers.
Brevard Zoo officials are preparing for the lions' arrival by fundraising for 4-foot balls, bungees and "tipsy tom" wobble toys. These great cat toys are "designed to be gnawed on, pawed at and pushed around by one of the world’s most powerful predators," the zoo website describes.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' lion breeding program matched Shani, who was a first-time mother, and the cubs' father, Masamba, back in 2013. It took nearly six years for Shani to become pregnant.
Shani previously lived at Akron Zoo in Ohio, while Masamba used to live at Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
African lions are classified as a vulnerable species, and the World Wildlife Fund reports their numbers have tumbled more than 40% during the past three generations. Only about 20,000 remain in the wild, WWF estimates.
Winsten said the AZA may match Chobe, Karoo and Ruaha with mates.
“Depending on how well-represented the genetic materials of these three boys are, they might be called to breed down the road. Or not. But, in the meantime, we're happy to take care of them," Winsten said.
He said rising supply costs and difficulties securing contractors delayed construction of the temporary lion exhibit, which he had hoped would be finished by summer's end.
On Dec. 29, Eko, an 8-year-old Malayan tiger, was fatally shot in his enclosure by a Collier County Sheriff's deputy at Naples Zoo after the great cat seized the arm of a 26-year-old zoo contract worker. The incident drew global media attention.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a preliminary report Wednesday that exonerated the zoo of responsibility, the Naples Daily News reported. In the report, an FWC investigator said the contract worker had jumped over a safety barrier and inserted his hand or arm into the tiger enclosure.
Last week, Brevard Zoo officials announced that Mulac the jaguar had been euthanized because of failing health. Mulac, who was nearly 21 years old, suffered from chronic kidney disease and arthritis.