Public debut for Phila. Zoo's new lion

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

There's a new big cat in town at the Philadelphia Zoo. A new male lion debuted to the public Wednesday, but he's about much more than attracting crowds.

The wooden door of the lion house slid open, and there stood the newest resident. His name is Makini, and he paused to slowly survey his new environment at the zoo.

"He's adjusting," said leader keeper Kay Buffamone. "He's nervous, so he's going to come out slowly."

RELATED: See pictures of the Makini, the zoo's new lion

Makini soon stuck his head out to gauge his surroundings. But that effort was shortlived. Not convinced at first, he turned back, but seemed to have a change of heart. He was then lured out for a feast of tempting ground meat and a jaunt around his new yard at the First Niagara Big Cat Falls Exhibit.

"It's going to be exciting to see the evolution of this boy grow, our new pride, it's kind of the next generation," said the zoo's Curator of Carnivores, Tammy Schmidt.

Makini means "dignity" in Swahili but the reason he's here is a matter of pride. A new pride, in fact. He'll soon be joined by a female lion with the intention of breeding.

"Their populations are decreasing through numerous things," said Schmidt. "There are so many things affecting them that we need to do everything we can to sustain their population."

Makini weighs about 300 pounds and eats 6-7 pounds of ground meat each day. You don't see the zoo's current pride of four out with him because they must alternate their time outside. But he certainly seems curious.

"I think he's very interested in his neighbors," Buffamonte told Action News. "He's very motivated by hearing the pride that's housed next to him."

Makini hasn't met his mate yet, but there was a careful process to match the pair. Experts from the Species Survival Plan run a kind of dating service for at-risk species.

"It's sort of like putting all your information into match.com," said Schmidt. "And they spit out all the possibilities that take into account genetics, health, and diversity."

Makini's mate actually arrived to the zoo on Wednesday. She will spend the next month or so at the hospital getting checked out before the getting-to-know-you process begins.

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philadelphia, pennsylvania, animals, philadelphia zoo, local/state, katherine scott
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