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Lion cubs join Texas Zoo

By Gheni_Platenburg
March 26, 2010 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

Texas Zoo Executive Director Andrea Blomberg holds Aesa, one of two female lions Friday, which were just acquired from the Austin Zoo. The two could be Barbary lions. There are less than a hundred such lions in zoos around the world and the breed has become extinct in the wild.

Meet Aesa and Gaia.

These sisters are 10 weeks old, fuzzy, golden-colored, like rubber chew toys, and love to eat turkey and beef snacks. They are also the newest cubs on the block at the Texas Zoo.

The pair, which was born at the Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, arrived in Victoria on Tuesday at no cost to the zoo.

"This is an exciting time for the Texas Zoo," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the Texas Zoo. "These beautiful cubs will be an added attraction for our Zoo but also provide an opportunity for us to continue our conservation efforts by potentially participating in the Barbary Lion Project."

Blomberg said the "toddlers" are believed to be Barbary Lions, a subspecies of lion that hails from North Africa.

With less than 100 Barbary lions worldwide, the breed is nearly extinct.

The sisters' parents have been tested to determine their bloodline, but they are still waiting on the test results, Blomberg said.

If the pair is found to be Barbary lions, they could be eligible to participate in the Barbary Lion Project, a project aimed at resurrecting the subspecies' population.

In regards to the new animals, Blomberg said she gave people the clue, "The Texas Zoo has come full circle," because the Texas Zoo started with a lion.

Prior to Gaia and Aesa coming to Victoria, zoo officials did what they could to make the cubs feel welcome upon arrival.

With $1,000 worth of donations from Victoria's Costal Kitchen and Victoria Builder Supply, zoo officials were able to spruce up the old jaguar's den with safety glass, sod, a lagoon-like pool, hay from their mother's den and a two-bedroom living quarters.

Additionally, Jan Dunaway, the zoo's curator, spent the day in Dallas with an animal behaviorist to learn how to read the animals' behavior.

"That goes a long way in getting a response from them," said Dunaway.

The zoo staff has also spent time getting to know the friendly pair, nearly identical in looks. However, there are a few subtle differences, Blomberg said.

She said Aesa weighs 28 pounds, while Gaia weighs 30 pounds.

According to, female Barbary lions can grow to weigh between 400-450 pounds.

Additionally, one of Gaia' ears is smaller than the other one.

The cubs made their rounds in a wheelbarrow to meet and greet the other animals, some of whom made a big production about it.

"The Guinea hens were squawking as if to let everyone know there are new animals on site," said Blomberg. "The cubs just watched them," she said laughing.

The playful pair is expected to be the zoo's "most popular exhibit," Blomberg said.

However, she said they will need a bigger habitat once they grow larger, which could cost about $30,000.

"I'm going to have to jump on (fundraising) immediately," she said. "The cubs are a big draw for Victoria and a big draw for the Texas Zoo."



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