From motherhood to hunting, lionesses key to big-cat success

While the family life of African lions is nurturing and cooperative, it can also be cutthroat.


Lion family structure and behavior are all about control and survival. Females live cooperatively in groups called prides and are responsible for the caring and nurturing of the family, including doing most of the hunting. The primary job of males is to protect and reproduce. They engage in fierce battles to take control of a pride, which can result in the death of the losing lion. If a pride is overtaken, the new male often will kill any cubs in the pride to ensure his genetics are the ones carried on.


At the end of a pregnancy, females will separate from the pride to give birth and will remain secluded for about eight weeks in order to protect the cubs. Often, multiple females in the pride will get pregnant at the same time and go into seclusion together, helping each other care for the cubs during this vulnerable time. They will even cross-suckle (nurse each others cubs). When the cubs have grown a bit and are not as helpless, the mother will return to the pride.


Reintroduction can be touchy and mothers will fiercely defend their little ones at all costs, even willing to kill or die for them. Females remain with their mother’s pride for life while males will leave when they are around 2 years old, forming bachelor groups that venture out to find their own pride to dominate.


On Jan. 13, the Pueblo Zoo was proud to welcome an addition to the Pueblo pride. First-time mother Mashavu gave birth to a single male cub. To reflect the natural process in the wild, the mother and cub are being left alone as much as possible to bond. They have formed a very strong bond, which is not always a given for a first-time mom. The last time cubs were born in Pueblo, the two mothers rejected their cubs, which needed to be hand-raised.


The next step will be to introduce the cub to father Taz. Zookeepers have constructed a “howdy door,” which allows the cub and father to see, hear and smell each other but prevents contact. Initial interactions have been positive.


The zoo plans to debut the cub in early April. The exact date will be determined based on cues from the mother and cub. In the meantime, the public is encouraged to participate in the Pueblo Zoo/Pueblo Chieftain naming contest. Entries will be accepted until March 13. Further updates will be available at and on the zoo’s Facebook page.

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