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Local News

Young Lionesses Make Debut at Santa Barbara Zoo

Kadi and Neema arrived last month from Washington, D.C., as part of a captive-breeding program

Two round golden eyes peered through a wall of foliage Tuesday morning, taking in the sights and sound of East Beach.

Yards away, an oblivious jogger pushing a stroller passed by. Volleyball players on the beach enjoyed their game, unaware. 

A sturdy set of chain link fences separated the 300-pound hidden observer from the rest of the world, and made up the boundaries of her new environment.

Zookeepers call her Kadi, and she’s one of a pair of 2-year-old African lionesses that the public got a glimpse of Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Kadi and another lioness, Neema, arrived last month from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and have been brought to Santa Barbara to breed with the zoo’s 14-year-old male lion, Chadwick, in hopes that the zoo’s “pride” will expand along with the total number of African lions in captivity.

It’s part of a cooperative breeding program put on by the Association of Zoos and Aquarium. 

There were 219 African lions living in AZA-accredited zoos as of June 2012, and the four lions at Santa Barbara Zoo are part of a sub-species, the South African lion.

Even though Chadwick is an older lion, zoo officials say his genes are still valuable to the AZA captive population of lions because he is underrepresented there genetically. 

Chadwick and Gingerbread, an older lioness at the zoo, have only produced two cubs: Kiki, a female, born in 2004, who is now at Zoo Atlanta, and Docha, a male, born in 2005, now living at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich.

On Tuesday, Kadi prowled her enclosure, while Neema stayed out of view.

Michele Green, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said that for now, while the younger female lions will be kept apart from Chadwick and Gingerbread, they can see and hear each other from their separate cages.

A Fennec fox explores his new surroundings Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
A Fennec fox explores his new surroundings Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Green said that zoo personnel are videotaping the lions to see if they call out to each other and how they respond. Zookeepers will also switch toys from each pair’s cages to see how the other set of lions respond to the smell of the new animals.

From there, they’ll slowly integrate the younger lions with Chadwick, but how long that could take is “totally up to them,” Green said.

Just adjacent to the lions’ enclosures, two Fennec foxes were timidly exploring their new surroundings, as zoo observers strained to get a peek at the tiny additions.

The foxes — brothers named Bill and Andy — are native to the African Desert, and are now living in an exhibit formerly occupied by black-footed cats, which currently are off exhibit pending their move to another zoo.

The public is invited to see the foxes, as well as the new lionesses, on Thanksgiving Day, when the lionesses will be given raw turkeys as enrichment.

The zoo will be open that day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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