January was a tough month for lions at Brookfield Zoo. The zoo’s two older cats – 14-year-old Isis and 15-year-old Zenda – died within two weeks of each other as the New Year dawned, leaving the zoo with no lions in its collection.
That changed on March 17, when Brookfield Zoo welcomed two 4-year-old male African lions, Brutus and Titus – brothers as it turns out – after a recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ African Lion Species Survival Plan, in which Brookfield Zoo participates.
The Species Survival plan, according to an April 1 press release announcing the lions’ acquisition, “is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. Each plan manages the species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.”
Just how long either or both will reside at Brookfield Zoo is unclear, since the Species Survival Plan also recommends the two lions as candidates for breeding, so they could be on the move if planners identify potential mates elsewhere.
The plan is in place for African lions, because the species is deemed “vulnerable,” according to the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
According to the press release, there are between 20,000 and 30,000 African lions in the wild, concentrated in just 11 protected areas. The greatest threats to the species survival are hunting and loss of habitat due to development and agriculture. A more recent problem, said the press release, is the demand for lions’ bones and body parts by traditional Asian medicine due to a decline in the number of tigers living in the wild.
The lions come from Hogle Zoo in Utah and were introduced to the public – the zoo remains closed through at least the end of April due to the COVID-19 pandemic – via a Facebook Live “Bringing the Zoo to You” keeper chat on April 2. That video is available to watch on the Brookfield Zoo Facebook page and on the zoo’s YouTube channel .
Presenting the lions in the video is Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal programs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.
“Before we had to close the zoo, guests were inquiring as to when we would be getting lions again following the devastating loss of our previous pair,” said Zeigler in the press release. “We wanted to share some happy news during this trying time and are looking forward to when guests can visit the zoo to see Brutus and Titus.”
According to the press release, Titus and Brutus were born Feb. 24, 2016. Once visitors can visit in person again, the lions will be on display in the Big Cat walkway and visitors will be able to distinguish the two through their features. Brutus has a long, dark and straight mane, while Titus’ mane is shorter, lighter and bit frizzy. Titus is also a bit taller than Brutus.
The press release also states that zoo keepers have also noticed differences in the two lions’ personalities. Brutus appears to be the “calmer” of the pair, while Titus is more active.
“The brothers are very bonded and often sleep next to one another,” the press release states.
Brookfield Zoo is also inviting anyone interesting in helping fund the care of Titus and Brutus to participate in its Animal Adoption program. Information about the program is available on the Brookfield Zoo website at CZS.org/FeaturedCreature.