Occasionally first-time parents can be a little too good at their jobs! Kimani, an African Lion at the Idaho Falls Zoo, was an attentive, doting mother to her new cub, but when he developed a small cut, her overzealous licking and cleaning actually made it worse. Zoo staff decided that the cub needed a little break in order to heal. To keep him socialized during the separation, they introduced him to Justice, a 2-year-old rescued Great Pyrenees and experienced mama.
When Justice was discovered by a local animal rescue, she was raising a litter of puppies and caring for a sickly sheep! Zoo staff knew that her nurturing nature would make Justice the perfect surrogate mom to the 2-month-old African lion cub who has yet to be named.
The cub is at a critical age for developing social skills. Justice’s job is to teach him proper behavior until he can return to his parents.
“An important aspect of animal development, particularly with baby carnivores, is having an adult animal teach ‘animal etiquette.’ This includes not biting other animals hard enough to injure them, and not using your claws to climb on your elders,” zoo curator Darrell Markum, told the Idaho Statesman.
The little cub’s wound has now completely healed and he is almost big enough to return to his mother, Kimani and father, Dahoma. Thanks to Justice, his chances of successfully being reunited with his parents have been greatly improved.
It turns out this little cub has a big role to play in the survival of his kind. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has developed a conservation program to maintain endangered species. In the wild, African lion populations have dropped 40 percent in the past 30 years.
Kimani and Dahoma’s cub is the Idaho Falls Zoo’s firstborn African Lion. His genes are unique and will add diversity to the captive lion pool.
If you’d like to catch a glimpse of this V.I.C. (Very Important Cub) and his surrogate dog-mom, the zoo has tentative plans to put them on exhibit together daily between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., as weather and the lion’s health allow.