Two lionesses have made themselves at home in a new exhibit at Perth Zoo, heralding the start of an important breeding program that it is hoped will help protect the species from total extinction.
Three year-old sisters Uzuri and Makeba, born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, are vital to the zoo’s planned breeding program.
Uzuri is Swahili for beautiful and Makeba means greatness in Ethiopia.
The closely bonded pair will live alongside 19-year-old Shinyanga, the zoo’s only lion since the 2016 deaths of male lions Mandela and Nelson.
Mandela died during surgery to have several fractured teeth removed six months after his brother Nelson died after a bout of pneumonia.
Shinyanga lives in a separate territory completed in the first stage of the lion exhibit upgrade last year. In the future, that exhibit will be used to also house male lions imported from North America.
Uzuri and Makeba will now settle into the $3.4 million enclosure which has been designed for breeding with special dens, holding areas and the capacity to hold four adult lions and four cubs.
The species is already extinct in 26 African countries and managed breeding is essential for its survival. There are as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild.
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson today officially welcomed the new big cats and opened the zoo’s breeding facility.
“Breeding for conservation is a game of patience,” he said.
“Zoo staff will work with their global zoo colleagues to transfer breeding males to Perth Zoo in he future to establish a new pride with the best genes from two hemispheres.
“One of Perth Zoo’s fundamental goals is to engage the public and inspire them to act for wildlife conservation. Nothing engages quite like new cubs. We have some very exciting years ahead of us.”
The new lion exhibit provides more room for the lions to roam and visitors more exciting and engaging experiences.
The new lion exhibit is an important part of the Future Zoo plans, giving animals more room to roam and visitors more exciting and engaging experiences.
The lions were transported to Perth in the cargo hold of a regular public Virgin flight from Sydney.
“It’s not every day that we get to welcome apex predators onboard, but when we do, there is extensive planning involved to ensure that the operation runs smoothly and the animals are looked after with the utmost care,” Glen Moloney, Virgin Australia cargo general manager, said.
Months of planning was involved in the lead up to the move, with the lionesses secured in transport-friendly crates given VIP access to the tarmac on the day.
A zoo spokesperson said the lions were weary on arrival but up bright and early the next morning ready to explore their new habitat.
“They’ve settled in well and are on-track to become visitor favourites,” they said in a written statement.