PORTLAND, Ore. — An African lion at the Oregon Zoo is due to deliver a litter of cubs soon.
Zookeepers estimated a Sept. 14 due date for Neka, one of two female lions in the zoo’s Predators of the Serengeti habitat.
Jennifer Davis, curator for the zoo’s Africa area, cautioned that this is Neka’s first pregnancy, and the birth of a healthy litter of cubs is not a sure thing.
“Naturally, we’re all excited,” Davis said. “But we know there’s a lot that could go wrong. Even if the birth itself goes smoothly, we don’t know how Neka will react to her offspring. Some lions don’t react well. We hope her nurturing instincts will kick in and she’ll take good care of them, but that doesn’t always happen, especially with first-time moms.”
Keepers believe conception occurred in late May, when they -- along with zoo visitors -- observed breeding activity between Neka and Zawadi Mungu, the zoo’s male lion. The pregnancy was confirmed last month through a fecal sample.
Davis said even though Neka doesn’t look pregnant to the casual observer, she has put on some weight and seems to be “a bit crankier as her due date approaches.”
Neka now has access to an off-exhibit maternity den to provide a private and comfortable birthing environment. Animal-care staff are also monitoring her around-the-clock on a closed-circuit surveillance camera.
“As much as possible, we want this to happen naturally,” Davis said. “It’s not uncommon for first-time moms to struggle, but that’s a process we have to allow.”
The average gestation period for African lions is a little more than three months and the average litter size is two to four. Cubs typically weigh about 3 pounds at birth and are born blind, their eyes opening within a week or two.
Neka has been at the Oregon Zoo since 2009. She was born at the Virginia Zoo in 20007.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has established Species Survival Plans for many threatened or endangered species, including African lions. These cooperative breeding programs help create genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of animals.