Zoo forecast: A slight chance of cubs

Neka's cubs have begun to explore the Oregon Zoo's outdoor lion habitat, but only for short periods and not according to a set schedule, officials said. While the cubs' official public debut may have to wait for spring when they're a little bigger and temperatures have started to rise, keepers took advantage of a couple warm, sunny afternoons this past week to get the young lions acquainted with their new space. "It's possible visitors might catch glimpses of the cubs in the coming weeks, but all the conditions need to be just right," said Laura Weiner, senior keeper of the zoo's Africa area. "Their welfare will be the guiding principle on when or if they're out." Weiner said the cubs also have been enjoying time in a behind-the-scenes outdoor space for several days. "They've been having a great time," Weiner said. "They're doing just what lions should be at their age climbing and jumping off logs, swatting at each other. Angalia even jumped in the water drinker very briefly." Before letting the cubs into the lion habitat, keepers have been "baby-proofing" it draining the pool and lining the bottom of the moat with straw bedding to make it safer for the cubs. "If any of the cubs decide to roll down the hill, they'll have a soft landing," Weiner said. "We're not sure they'll venture out that far, but we want to be prepared just in case." The female cubs have been living in a private maternity den since their birth Sept. 7 to 6-year-old Neka, a first-time mom. The zoo's three adult lions Neka, Zawadi Mungu and Kya came to the Oregon Zoo in 2009 based on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for African lions. Zawadi, the male, came from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the females, Neka and Kya, came from the Virginia Zoo and Wisconsin's Racine Zoo respectively.