Zoo Knoxville is celebrating the birth of two endangered African lion cubs, who were delivered by emergency Cesarean section surgery on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The cubs, one male and one female, are the first offspring of father Upepo (pronounced Oo-PEP-oh) and mother Amara and the first lion cubs born in Knoxville since 2006.
The survival of both cubs and their mother is due to the quick action of her care team at Zoo Knoxville.
Amara was expected to give birth in mid- to late-December, and she was being closely monitored. When she began showing signs of labor but delivery was not progressing, Amara was put under anesthesia and transported to the zoo’s animal clinic so an ultrasound could be performed.
The test revealed that a cub was lodged in the birth canal in a breech position, endangering Amara and the other cubs. The care team, which included veterinarians from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, made the decision to perform emergency surgery. Four cubs were delivered, but two did not survive.
The quick intervention saved two of the cubs, who are healthy, vocal and being cared for around the clock by zoo staff with expertise in natal care.
Due to Amara’s surgery and her inexperience as a mother, the cubs will be hand-reared together to ensure they are receiving proper nutrition and care. These cubs are extremely important to the population of lions in the care of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, who work collaboratively as part of the African Lion SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program to ensure a future for the species. The SAFE program partners with organizations in Africa to reduce conflict between farmers and lions, increase monitoring of the number of lions and where they are located, and address habitat loss.
In partnership with the Lion Recovery Fund and Disney’s Protect the Pride campaign, the goal of the SAFE Program is to double the number of lions in the wild by 2050.
Tina Rolen is director of marketing and communications at Zoo Knoxville.