Santa Barbara Zoo introduces two new lions
Move over, Monty.
Step aside, Twiga.
The lions are here.
As the Santa Barbara Zoo gets ready to welcome back guests next week, visitors can count on reconnecting with Monty, the Humboldt penguin-turned-social media darling, when they reenter the zoo grounds.
They can also look forward to getting an up-close look at Twiga, the giraffe that entered the world while the zoo was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, they will be greeted with wildlife royalty in the form of Ralph and Felicia, the zoo’s two new African lions.
“We’re truly excited to safely welcome guests back to the Santa Barbara Zoo,” Rich Block, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Zoo, said in a news release. “We remain committed to protecting this community and have gone through extensive planning and preparation so that our guests can feel safe and comfortable while visiting.”
Mr. Block acknowledged that while future visits may feel different than before, the new additions “will bring some much-needed smiles to a lot of faces.”
Felecia was born at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, on April 10, 2018. She lived in a pride with one male and six other female lions. She was considered the dominant cub in her litter and pride.
The 2-year-old is not fully mature and is not expected to reproduce at this time, officials said.
Ralph was born at the Indianapolis Zoo in Indiana on Sept. 15, 2015 – sharing the same birthday as Chadwick, the zoo’s last remaining lion, who died in December 2019. Ralph lived in a pride that included his brother, sister and mother. His previous keepers describe him as calm, curious and respectful to his mom and sister.
Not only does the new male lion share a birthday with his predecessor, they both also came to Santa Barbara via the Indianapolis Zoo, which officials noted was “another special shared connection” between the two.
The Santa Barbara Zoo was closed at the time of the lions’ arrival on May 6, though the team was well prepared to welcome them. The zoo received a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and as part of the program, the plan to bring in new lions began before the passing of Chadwick.
The new lions traveled together via ground transport and went directly into the lion holding area upon arrival to get acquainted with each other while they quarantined for 30 days.
As reported in Tuesday’s News-Press, the recent arrival continues the zoo’s long history with big cats.
“We have had lions at the zoo for almost 50 years, so we are very happy about the arrival of these two new lions following a brief hiatus,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, vice president of Animal Care and Health for the zoo. “African lions are considered ‘vulnerable’ and are disappearing quickly in some parts of their wild range.
“We look forward to continuing our work with the AZA Species Survival Plan, ensuring a thriving and sustainable population for African lions in human care and contributing to the conservation and education efforts for this species.”
The two new lions are sponsored by Premier Foster Feeder Angelo Mozilo, in honor of his late wife, Phyllis. The expenses included moving the lions, updating their exhibit and helping feed them for the next year.
Members of the public can also welcome the lions by becoming a Foster Feeder sponsor of the new pride. While supplies last, new feeders at all levels will receive a 12-inch African lion plush from Wild Republic, a personalized Foster Feeder certificate and recognition on the feeder board at the zoo. For more information on the program, visit sbzoo.pivvit.com/special-african-lion.
The local zoo has had lions since 1970, which began with the arrival of Dandylion. Over the following decades, the zoo cared for a number of lions, including Docha, Paka and Kali. The zoo’s “Cats of Africa” exhibit opened in 2003, welcoming the arrival of Chadwick and Gingerbread, the zoo’s last mating pair.
Chadwick and Gingerbread produced two offspring: Kiki, who now resides at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and Docha, who is now at the John Ball Zoo. Gingerbread died in 2017 at the age of 18. Chadwick passed away in December 2019 at the age of 21.
African lions, the second largest big cat after tigers, are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the past two decades, the population has decreased by 43%, and as few as 23,000 remain today. Threats to lions include habitat loss, poaching, and retaliation killings by farmers attempting to protect their livestock.
One of the main causes is the rate at which they are losing their habitats due to expanding human populations and the resulting growth of agriculture, settlements, and roads.
The zoo will officially reopen to the general public on June 23 by online reservation only. Temporary changes will be in place as the zoo seeks to comply with local and state health guidelines.
More information on the new protocols can be found at www.sbzoo.org.