Lion cubs wow visitors to S.C. zoo

The sentiment is universal from the kindergarten students to the high school students to the adults with both groups.

“They're so cute.”

The five lion cubs on display at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia have been drawing raves and crowds since they moved to an outdoor display in September. The 5-month-olds have adjusted so well they now stay out six hours a day, and like so many adolescents, sometimes balk at coming in at all.

Starting Thursday, they took another star turn on the Internet as the zoo's Web cam moved to the lion exhibit. The camera also was on their indoor home during the summer, drawing 25,000 views in less than a month.

They're much more fun to watch now. Whether wrestling with each other, sneaking up from behind and pouncing or just resting and panting on a log, the three boys and two girls seem to be having a blast.

Zoo employees enjoy the show, maybe even more than the visitors.

“The keepers are reaping the benefits of the middle-of-the-night feedings,” said mammal curator John Davis. “Now they get to watch them grow up.

“We're very proud of this. It's quite an accomplishment to have an exhibit full of lion cubs.”

The zoo staff had to hand-rear the cubs because the mothers had difficult births. Brynn gave birth to four of them June 7. Lindsay gave birth to the fifth June 13. Brynn and Lindsay are sisters, and Zuri is the father of all five cubs.

The mothers have recovered, but the youngsters were away from them for more than two months. The reactions of Brynn, Lindsay and Zuri when the cubs were brought to other parts of the behind-the-exhibit enclosure made zoo officials reluctant to re-introduce the youngsters to their parents then.

Re-introduction might come with time, or it might not. Because their genetic line is rare in captive lions, the five newcomers almost certainly will be sent to other zoos as they near maturity. Davis suspects they'll be moved when they are 18 months old.