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Zoo’s Lion Pair Back on Exhibit – Double the Space and Closer Than Ever!

Categories: Animals, Visitor Services

For the first time ever, you can get nose-to-nose with an African lion at the Sacramento Zoo. The grand reopening of the expanded lion habitat was unveiled for exhibit donors over the weekend and officially launched for zoo guests today. After months of renovation, the zoo’s resident lion pair, Cleo and Kamau are back on exhibit in double the living space and closer than ever!

African lion Cleo with visitor at glassAfrican lions have been a part of the zoo experience in Sacramento for over 90 years. Lions have lived in the same space since the exhibit was built by the City of Sacramento in 1961. What was a state of the art exhibit in 1961 was in dire need of an update due to the evolving standards in animal care and welfare. In 2018, zoo staff made the difficult decision to send the zoo’s last tiger to the San Francisco Zoo. The departure of tigers, a species the zoo had cared for since 1927, cleared the way for an initiative to double the living space and improve the quality of life for the zoo’s two lions.

River City Glass took a leading philanthropic role in assisting the Sacramento Zoo in these efforts by working with the zoo’s facilities department to create a glass barrier at the front of the exhibit.  A crossing area that doubles as a shelter for the lions allows the cats to move between the two spaces. The shelter includes heat lamps for the winter and will also provide shade during the summer. Training panels were added at opposite ends of the habitat, so animal care staff can demonstrate operant conditioning and husbandry techniques in front of zoo guests. As the zoo looks forward to a potential relocation, the glass frames could be repurposed at a new location.

African lion Kamau by glass viewing windowsKamau and Cleo have lived at the zoo for several years. Both cats were born at other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions. At ages 14 and 13, they are an older pair of lions that serve as ambassadors for their species. Since 1961 when the zoo’s lion grotto was built, the population of lions in Africa has declined by over 70 percent. The zoo has made a commitment to assist wild lions by supporting CLAWS (Conservancy Communities Living Among Wildlife Sustainably) with its Quarters for Conservation program. Lions face challenges such as habitat loss, poaching and poisoning from farmers where lions encounter livestock. A portion of the Sacramento Zoo’s admission fee goes towards the mitigation of challenges facing lions in Northern Botswana.

The zoo’s new lion exhibit expansion is just one of the many recent projects at the zoo. These include the addition of a mob of meerkats (November 2018), a new habitat for okapi – an endangered relative of the giraffe (February 2019) and a temporary exhibit of dinosaurs (September 2019 through January 5, 2020).

Sacramento Zoo wishes to thank River City Glass as well as the other generous donors who made it possible to double the space for our lion pair.

Photo Credit: Mike Owyang