Who will be the Oregon Zoo's animal 'Mom of the Year?'

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In anticipation of Mother's Day next week, the Oregon Zoo wants your help naming its zoo animal "Mother of the Year."

It's stiff competition. There's a California condor named Timocho, Tilly the river otter, Rose-Tu the elephant and Neka the lion.

Those animal kingdom moms are the finalists in this year's competition. You can vote for your favorite at the zoo's website.

Online votes will be accepted through next Thursday at 5 p.m. The 2014 Mother of the Year will be announced next Friday.

Here's a little bit more on each "contestant" from a zoo news release:

The zoo was filled with pride when Neka, a 6-year-old African lion, gave birth to three not-so-little kittens Sept. 7. Keepers say the first-time mom has been very nurturing and attentive grooming, nursing and wrangling her cubs from the moment they were born. Despite her exceptional mothering skills, the smallest and weakest of the litter, Kamali, faced health issues early on, requiring an intensive-care intervention and a nine-day stay in the zoo's Veterinary Medical Center. Keepers weren't sure how Neka would react when they returned the little one to her private maternity den, but she accepted her cub straightaway. "Neka seemed to pick up right where she'd left off," said curator Jennifer Davis, who oversees the zoo's Africa and primate areas. "She just started grooming the smaller cub right along with her other two, almost as if she'd never been away."


For much of 2012, the biggest developing story at the Oregon Zoo was the baby growing inside Rose-Tu. Late that fall, after 22 months of pregnancy, she delivered a healthy, 300-pound female calf, Lily but, of course, her work as a mom didn't end there. Lily was born big, with an outsize personality to match. Keepers have described her as a "spitfire," and she's had a huge impact on the zoo's world-famous Asian elephant family. "Young elephants are brought up within an extended, multigenerational family that includes the biological mother along with aunties and friends," said Bob Lee, the zoo's elephant curator. "So we consider a vote for Rose-Tu to be honoring Shine and Chendra as well. With Rose and Shine focused on raising Lily, Chendra has taken on a natural role as a teacher to 5-year-old Samudra. Chendra was an orphan, so this gives her a place in the family she never had before. That's important for the well-being of all of our elephants."

Last year's Mom of the Year is a contender once again. North American river otter Tilly gave birth to her second pup, Ziggy, Nov. 8, and keepers say the new arrival proved quite a handful. Named after the river that flows down Mount Hood through Zigzag Canyon, the young otter seemed to grow into his name zigging this way and that, and scampering away from Tilly when she tried to lead him indoors. "Human parents often notice that the second child is much more independent," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America area. "We definitely noticed that with our second otter. As soon as Ziggy started walking, he was on the go. He's a little motorboat." Independent streak or no, young river otters are still very dependent on their moms and have to be taught to swim. And, keepers point out, Tilly is the only Mom of the Year candidate to give birth twice in a single year; her first pup, Mo, was born last January. To see a video of their swim lessons, go to

All moms have it hard, but few have overcome as much as California condor Timocho. Hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo more than 15 years ago, she was released into the wild later that year as part of the national effort to repopulate the critically endangered species. She did well for several years, but in 2005 she was hit in the face by a shotgun blast. Pellets from the blast damaged one of her eyes and her tongue, and fractured bones in and around her mouth. Though her situation looked bleak, Timocho was nursed back to health and transferred to the Oregon Zoo's breeding program in 2008. "Timocho has come a long way," said Kelli Walker, the zoo's senior condor keeper. "She can't go back into the wild, but she has been able to overcome some serious disabilities. She and her partner, Willie, have helped five chicks into the world one a year starting in 2010 with two now flying free in California and Arizona." Timocho's most recent chick hatched April 11, and Walker says she has been a caring and nurturing mom.