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New zoo resident may put pep in lion’s step

Citizen Staff Writer



The king of the jungle is getting a queen at the Reid Park Zoo.

Kaya, a 16-month-old female African lioness, arrived at the zoo last week and will soon be joining male African lion Kitabu in his habitat.

She’s currently in quarantine, just to make sure she’s “super-healthy” before she’s introduced into the zoo’s population, education curator Vivian VanPeenen said.

The two lions will be more roommates than anything else, as Kitabu had a vasectomy in December.

Even though they won’t be mating, Kaya is expected to bring a playful bounce back into the habitat.

“She will challenge Kitabu to put pep back in his step,” VanPeenen said. Kitabu is still a young 16 years old, and he’s expected to become even more spry with a younger pal.

“She is full grown but still has that sort of baby look to her,” VanPeenen said of the lioness.

Kaya hails from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, where her keepers described her as “bold and independent.”

“They said she was incredibly inquisitive and very playful,” VanPeenen said.

A third lion at the Reid Park Zoo, old man M’bali who is 21, will not interact with Kaya.

He’ll stay in the large area behind the scenes when Kaya and Kitabu are in the main exhibit. The lions will be rotated, with the duo behind the scenes when M’bali is on exhibit.

“People will never see all three lions together at once,” VanPeenen explained.

The zoo’s previous female, A-Tatu, used to trade off spending time with both males. She was euthanized in October at age 21 because her quality of life was diminished due to ailments like progressive arthritis.

Kaya, however, may be a bit much for M’bali to deal with.

“For geriatric animals, it’s too much of a challenge,” VanPeenen said.

She said Kaya should be out of quarantine in another two to three weeks.

Prior to Kaya, the most recent additions to the zoo were three little pigs – Visayan warty pigs, to be exact. Pearl, Dakila and Calaya came to the Reid Park Zoo in July.

A Pig Party is planned for the trio at 1 p.m. Sunday, which is National Pig Day.

“We never had pigs before,” VanPeenen said. “This is new for the zoo.”

The Pig Party will feature pig crafts, activities, a warty pig training demonstration and a pig parade for the kids.

The party is free with regular admission to the zoo.

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