Sometimes when an animal moves to a new zoo, it must get used to a new herd or group. But the new lionesses at the Milwaukee County Zoo traveled as a pride. Patty Sharptooth, a 5-year-old African lion, came to the Zoo with her 2-year-old daughters, Eloise and Amira, from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas.
The three arrived in late February, shortly before the Zoo shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, the Zoo’s male lion, Themba, died in May at the age of 16, so the pride is all-female for now. The lack of visitors helped the lions acclimate to the exhibit more quickly, especially Patty, who can become uncomfortable in front of large groups, says Katie Kuhn, area supervisor of big cats. “Patty Sharptooth is shy and hesitant with multiple people around, but one-on-one with her keeper she is gentle and sweet and smart as a whip. She knows more behaviors than most of our cats! We've been able to work on one thing at a time and build our trust with her so that hopefully when guests return, we have a strong foundation with her.”
Kuhn calls Eloise and Amira “typical lion teenagers – pushy, bossy, loud, playful.” The keepers work hard to keep the young lionesses active through training sessions and other enrichment. They seem to especially enjoy whole prey and trying to pull hard plastic toys out of the pool.
The lionesses get along well, Kuhn says. “Since they are mother and daughters, they have their hierarchy already figured out.” You can identify Patty because she has a straight edge on her left ear, owing to a bite from another lion at her previous zoo. Eloise has a small slit in her right ear, probably from rough-housing with Amira, Kuhn says. “Amira is the one that runs to us first. She's always hungry, always curious and the most independent from mom.” The lionesses will alternate with the hyenas in their indoor and outdoor exhibits in Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country.
This article appeared in the July - August issue of Wild Things.