11 January 2023

National Zoo welcomes two roar-some new additions to their mane enclosure

| Evelyn Karatzas
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Mlinzi the lion

Mlinzi the lion (aka the protector) in his new home. Photo: Evelyn Karatzas.

A pair of tawny lions are the latest additions to Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium.

Ten-year-old lion Mlinzi and 11-year-old lioness Nairibi arrived at their new home last year, and have been settling in ever since.

Mlinzi, born at Monarto Safari Park in South Australia, has spent the past three years living at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, and Nairibi, who was born in Denmark, came to Australia in 2014, and was previously living at the Weribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria.

National Zoo and Aquarium general manager Paul Whitehorn said the new tawny lions were welcomed as part of the zoo’s breeding program.

“They are so impressive. He’s (Mlinzi) such a handsome boy, she’s (Nairibi) relatively pretty as well and everybody loves them and seeing them do lion things,” Paul said.

“We’re very excited because the last time we bred here was about 19 years ago, so we’re really looking forward to that process and seeing them and watching them have a family and watching those cubs grow up.

“Previously in here (the enclosure) we did have the two boys that were bred here, and they’ve gotten to an age now where they’ve retired, so it just gave us the opportunity and the space now to actually have that chance to breed.”

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Paul said that as the lions prepared for their breeding cycle, they first needed to get comfortable with each other.

“She (Nairibi) needs to get comfortable with him (Mlinzi) and she needs to basically establish herself as being the boss,” he said.

“She needs to be comfortable with her surroundings so that she knows it’s nice and safe to have cubs.

“She has started cycling, and they are doing some National Geo moments and it’s looking like they’re starting to get it right, so we’re hoping now that she’s cycling properly, he’s mating and hopefully within 106 to 110 days we will have some cubs.”

The lion expert, who has been working with big cats for more than 30 years, said tawny lions could live up to 15 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.

They are known for spending most of their days resting and being inactive, which could be for up to 20 hours.

Paul said the lions were quite easy to care for.

“They’re very responsive and enjoy watching people,” he said.

lion and lioness

Mlinzi – the lion and Nairibi- the lioness. Photo: Evelyn Karatzas.

“We spend a lot of time with them, especially Nairibi. We want to know that she feels comfortable and that when she has cubs, she’s not going to be nervous or worried about them.

“Feeding is a big part of that and they love their food – these guys get fed five times a week. It’s just like in the wild, they wouldn’t be successful in hunting every day, so they’re designed around big feeds and having a good nap to sleep that off.”

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The zoo general manager said the video above indicated Mlinzi asserting his dominance with the white lions in the enclosure next to his and Nairibi’s.

“Mlinzi particularly wants to be top dog. He wants to show that he can protect his girl … but at the end of the day, it is just about meeting the neighbours, it’s having a chat over that fence, just like you would when you move in somewhere new,” Paul said.

“It’s just about establishing a little bit of dominance and territory.

“Lions are very, very territorial. So he’s pretty much just saying, ‘Hey, this is my space, that’s yours, let’s agree on that’.”

To visit Mlinzi and Zairibi, and find out more, head to the National Zoo and Aquarium.

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