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PORTLAND The Oregon Zoo's African lion has been selected as the 2014 Father of the Year.

Zawadi Mungu is the proud and sometimes grouchy papa to three young cubs born at the zoo on Sept. 7.

Photos:African lion Zawadi Mungu at Oregon Zoo

I think Zawadi s an excellent choice for Father of the Year, said Laura Weiner, senior keeper for the zoo s Africa section. For a lion, being a father is more about protecting your offspring than playing with them. And Zawadi s been great about watching over his cubs while at the same time allowing them to use him as a jungle gym.

Video released by the zoo shows the fearsome 500-pound lion venturing outside with his energetic cubs for the first time. They attack him and pull on his mane and tail while he patiently allows it.

What little lion cubs do is practice hunting, and the way they do that is on their parents and siblings, Weiner explained. They are constantly stalking, chasing, pouncing, biting and Zawadi allows all that.

Increased attention on Zawadi Mungu also gives the zoo a platform to highlight awareness about the plight of African lions in the wild.

Just two decades ago, lions were plentiful in much of Africa, Weiner said. But today they are vanishing at alarming rates. Hopefully, we can start a new chapter in lion conservation.

The zoo s three adult lions Zawadi, Neka and Kya came to the Oregon Zoo in 2009 based on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for African lions. Zawadi, the male, came from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the females, Neka and Kya, came from the Virginia Zoo and Wisconsin s Racine Zoo respectively.

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