National Geographic Society Newsroom

Washington, D.C. lion pride grows with four new cubs

Lions may be under pressure in the wild in Africa, but in the capital of the United States their population just expanded. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed this year’s second litter of African lion (Panthera leo) cubs, the zoo said today. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s 5-year-old lion Shera gave birth to a litter of 4...

Lions may be under pressure in the wild in Africa, but in the capital of the United States their population just expanded.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed this year’s second litter of African lion (Panthera leo) cubs, the zoo said today.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s 5-year-old lion Shera gave birth to a litter of 4 cubs between 10:30 p.m. August 30 and 2:30 a.m. August 31.


Photo courtesy of National Zoo

National Zoo lion Shera.jpg

Photo of Shera, the mother lion, by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

“On August 31, Shera gave birth to four cubs–the first litter for 5-year-old Shera and the first surviving litter for 4-year-old male Luke,” the zoo said in a statement with the release of photos.

“The National Zoo is thrilled that our captive management program for African lions is growing,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Zoo. “After the sad loss of our other female lion’s cub in May, these cubs symbolize hope for the Zoo and for conservation programs. They will help build healthy, genetically diverse populations and contribute greatly to their species’ survival.”

The cubs were born between 10:30 p.m. yesterday and 2:30 a.m. today and since then have been mobile and appear to have nursed, the zoo added.

“Because it is not uncommon for intervals between births to be several hours long, keepers will continue to monitor Shera for additional cubs,” the zoo said.

Watch this short video clip of the cubs:

Although the Zoo has managed lions in the past, it has been many years since it had the right combination of animals by age and gender to develop a pride, the zoo said in its statement. “Doing so successfully has required extensive planning, knowledge of the species’ natural history and an understanding of the individual animals involved.”

From the zoo:

Introductions among Shera, Luke and Nababiep (Shera’s 6-year-old sister) began almost two years ago in an effort to build a pride. Six months ago, all three lions spent time in the yard together as a group for the first time. The introduction was a positive one, and Shera and Luke bred the second week of May. Over the past few weeks, keepers have gradually separated the three again to give Shera privacy and emulate the natural process. In the wild, lions may wait up to six weeks before introducing their cubs to the rest of the pride. Keepers predict the cubs will not be out in the yard, however, until late fall, which will give the Zoo’s animal keepers and veterinary team time to examine them and monitor Shera as she adjusts to being a first-time mother. She has privacy in her own cubbing den but also has the option of visiting Nababiep through a mesh door.

The birth of lion cubs marks the next step in building a pride, and keepers will slowly introduce the cubs to their aunt with the aim of eventually bringing all seven lions together. Keepers had a similar plan for Nababiep, who gave birth to a single male cub May 18. Unfortunately, a straw seed became lodged in the cub’s lung, and it died of pneumonia.

“Since the unfortunate death of Naba’s cub, we’ve investigated various alternative bedding options,” said Rebecca Stites, a lion and tiger keeper. “The use of bedding is imperative as it protects the cubs from trauma during the first fragile weeks of their lives. We’ve provided Shera and her cubs with shavings and soft hay with as few seed as possible.”

Nearly two weeks after Nababiep was reintroduced to the pride, she bred with Luke again. Keepers suspect that Nababiep is pregnant again and will monitor her behavior in the coming weeks.

The formation of prides makes lions unique among the great cats, many of which are solitary animals. Hunting, disease and habitat loss have contributed to a decline in the population of African lions, which are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Our hope is that her maternal instincts will kick in quickly, but we are keeping in mind that this whole experience is new to her,” said Kristen Clark, a lion and tiger keeper. “We will be closely monitoring how she reacts to her cubs, since there is a possibility that she could reject them. Naba was an excellent mother to her first cub, and we have every indication that Shera will be the same.”

For more photos and information of the lion introductions, visit the National Zoo’s website.

Posted by David Braun from media materials provided by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Read more zoo news.

Join Nat Geo News Watch community

Readers are encouraged to comment on this and other posts–and to share similar stories, photos and links–on the Nat Geo News Watch Facebook page. You must sign up to be a member of Facebook and a fan of the blog page to do this.

Leave a comment on this page

You may also email David Braun ( if you have a comment that you would like to be considered for adding to this page. You are welcome to comment anonymously under a pseudonym.  

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn