July 7, 2008

Lion Cubs Are Adjusting to Life at the Duluth Zoo

By Brandon Stahl, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Jul. 7--People hoping to catch a glimpse of the newest residents of the Lake Superior Zoo on Sunday may have been slightly disappointed. The three lion cubs did what just about everyone else did during what was the hottest day of the year -- hide in the shade.

Still, some patrons who went behind a wooden fence to get a better view of the enclosure saw the cubs -- two females and a male, all siblings -- peering back at them out of a small cave in their rocky habitat. Zookeeper Dave Homstad said that's the same spot where the lions found a way to break their water feeder, meaning until the problem is fixed the only time they'll be able to get a drink is at night, when they're ushered into an enclosure.

Just another challenge, Homstad said, of maintaining a zoo.

"Just when you think you have everything figured out," he said, "something new comes at you."

Since arriving in late February to replace a 19-year-old tiger that died, the three cubs have been one of the facility's most popular attractions, zoo marketing director Anita Alberding said.

The tigers have more than doubled in size since February; they weigh about 130 to 150 pounds and eat about 7 pounds of food a day, which Homstad estimated costs $20 to $30 per cat daily.

When they aren't hiding from the heat, Homstad said, the cubs typically play around with toys or playfully gnaw on each other, which can be a fun sight for zoo visitors.

Still, Alberding said that while she didn't have specific figures, she noted that attendance was down from last year, when the zoo had Crunch, a 150-year-old snapping turtle that tours the country.

"Money is going into the gas tank," Alberding said. "Everybody's feeling it."

Alberding said she is optimistic that things can change, especially when the zoo gets 10th big cat, a male tiger named Usseri, to go with the female tiger near the main entrance of the park.


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