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ZOO-ology column: Visitors pounce on opportunity to see lions

By Victoria Advocate
Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.

Lions may be identified by their whisker spots. Short whiskers in front, long whiskers behind are universal, but each whisker grid is individual.

By Judie Farnsworth

I recently stopped by The Texas Zoo to visit with the Tuesday morning volunteer gardening group.

The animals were obviously loving the cooler weather. I heard a rumble, bumble, bump, r-r-roll - THUD!

Our young lion ladies Gaia (GUY-ya) and Aesa (A-sa) were playing like kittens. I watched with other delighted visitors as Gaia fished a large boomer ball from the pool where it landed. She carried it in her mouth to the other side of the enclosure where she dropped it and BAM - off she pounced again.

In the wild, the ball might have been a rock, plant or even mom's tail. Play like stalking, chasing, pouncing and wrestling are all important survival skills to be perfected. Of course, Gaia and Aesa won't need these skills to survive, but for every animal in captivity, sensory stimulation is a vital part of their growth, health and well being.

Lions are a favorite among zoo-goers. Learning more about them heightens the experience. Did you know?

"King of the Jungle" is a misnomer. Lions live in savannas, grassy plains and semi-desert areas.

Lions are the only felines (cats) that live in groups (prides).

Lions are the only felines that have tufts at the end of their tails.

Male lions are the only felines that have manes (distinguishing them from females)

All female lions in a pride (possibly 10 or more) are related. Female cubs usually stay with the group as they grow. Males leave to find their own pride.

Females are the primary hunters and may hunt cooperatively in small groups.

Males defend a pride's territory, which may take in 100 square miles.

When a male takes over a pride he may kill cubs under 2 years old and father his own cubs.

A lion roars at 2 years of age. Roars may be heard five miles away.

A lion is born with a pink nose that changes as it grows. Small black spots appear first and become larger and more numerous until the nose is solid black.

A lion may be identified by its whisker spots. Short whiskers in front, long whiskers behind are universal, but each whisker grid is individual. Not like random polka dots.

A lions back teeth (carnassals) work like scissors. The jaw can't move side to side so these teeth are always in alignment. Only one side of the mouth is used at a time.

The tongue is covered with very rough, backward pointing barbs (papialle) that can actually scrape meat off bones (they also aid grooming).

Males eat first, then females, then cubs.

The Texas Zoo offers great family time and the animals are at their best during cooler weather. They're sporting fresh winter coats and are more active. Be sure to check out our website texaszoo.org for a calendar of events.

Sources: philadelphiazoo.org

honoluluzoo.org/lion.htm

barbarylion.com/LionInfo.htm

Judie Farnsworth is a longtime volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.

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