Three African lion cubs were born earlier this month at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Mother Naomi is doing well and is being very attentive to the cubs, who appear to be healthy. All are being monitored behind the scenes by the Zoo’s veterinary and Heart of Africa animal care teams.

This is the first litter for four-year-old Naomi. Her pregnancy was a surprise since the cub’s sire, Tomo, underwent a vasectomy in 2018 because his genes are strongly represented within the African Lion Species Survival Program (SSP) population. After the procedure, he rejoined the Zoo’s five lionesses in the Heart of Africa. However, while rare, vasectomy procedures can sometimes fail in both humans and wildlife.

Tomo was humanely euthanized in May at the age of 15 after his quality of life rapidly diminished due to age-related issues, including degenerative joint disease and kidney disease resulting in the inability to stand.

Naomi is also Tomo’s daughter, and he mated with her before his rapid health decline. Since female cubs stay with their birth pride, African lions in their native ranges are known at times to mate with their own offspring if another male has not been able to successfully establish himself as the new leader of the pride. Zoological facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) manage prides with the intent to maximize genetic diversity for lions and utilize contraceptive measures, though rare situations can occur, as in this case. There’s no established evidence that this type of familial breeding increases genetic problems.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™, lions are listed as a vulnerable species, and they continue to be under increasing pressure in their native ranges in Africa. The Columbus Zoo has provided approximately $130,000 in the past five years to promote the co-existence of people and wildlife, such as helping farmers fence their kraals to prevent lions from harming livestock and increasing anti-snaring patrols, aerial surveillance, and veterinary interventions.

“We are committed to the work the Columbus Zoo is doing to protect lions in Africa, as well as inspiring our guests to join us in taking action to help lions and other species. We are very grateful for their support of the Zoo as it is also benefiting important conservation initiatives and having a direct impact on saving wildlife in their native ranges,” said Columbus Zoo President/CEO Tom Stalf.

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