Four separate enclosures surround the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Lion/Tiger Hill and allow for rotating the animals between each enclosure. Having access to different environments, especially where other animals have been and left their scent provides great enrichment for these big cats. At Lion/Tiger Hill you’ll find Sumatran tigers lounging beneath their shade and the zoo’s large pride of African lions. In the summer of 2010 the zoo’s pride consisted of two lionesses and a male. That all quickly changed late in the summer when one of the females, Shera, gave birth to four cubs. Less than a month later the other female, Nababiep, gave birth to three cubs bringing the number of the pride to ten.
In the spring of 2011 when I visited the cubs, at eight and seven months old, were still living happily with their extended family. Arriving at their enclosure I could see the scattered members of the pride, some basking in the rays of the sun, some enjoying a mid-morning cat nap, while others played with the enthusiasm only found in the frisky youth of lion cubs. Most of the pride, including the stately male, lounged atop the top tier of their enclosure, while one of the lionesses and a few of the cubs were on the lower tier. The lioness on the lower tier sat beneath a large tree as cubs played around her, head butting and jumping on her with the patience of a mother. Two of the cubs were distracted, stopped their play and slowly stalked over to the moat that surrounded their enclosure. With their little bottoms stuck up in the air and head hunched over their lowered front paws, with youthful inexperience they eagerly watched a mother duck swimming with her duckling in tow in the middle of the moat. With interest lasting only a few minutes both cubs resume their playful romp around their yard, up over rocks, wrestling in the straw lining their den and finally exhausted they flop down next to their watchful dad.
From lounging lions I headed over to the always conservative cheetahs at the Conservation Station. The Conservation Station is a part of the zoo that exhibits a few of the world’s endangered animals. It is here you’ll find the dainty dama gazelle, the world’s largest and rarest gazelles and possibly the prettiest, as well as the maned wolf, Grevy’s zebra and the African cheetah. Possibly one of the most interesting parts of this exhibit to me was the location of the Grevy’s zebra and cheetah enclosures. Where were they, you ask? They were right beside one another with only a fence seperating both. As I’ve written before, I am a stickler for enrichment in zoos and having a predator and prey showcased right beside each other provides immense environmental enrichment for both species.