Tiberius, the Buffalo Zoo’s 3-year-old male African lion, celebrated his first Father’s Day Sunday. To mark the occasion, he introduced his son Tobias to the public for the first time.
Three-month-old Tobias had not been expected to join his family for public viewing until at least the end of summer, but his healthy development and growth allowed for an earlier unveiling.
Zoo visitors crowded around the lion habitat Sunday morning hoping for a glimpse of the little guy, who is affectionately called Toby by zoo staff. Some onlookers caught just the top of an ear or a patch of golden fur while the cub napped.
Patient others saw more.
“He batted his dad across the face and the dad gave him a look like, ‘Who are you messing with?’” said Mark DeJac of Buffalo. “It was really funny.”
Toby also lounged at the top of a stone wall in the lion exhibit, checking out his adoring public from afar. Tiberius lay a few feet away, watching his son while mom, 6-year-old Lelei, strolled through the grass on the ground below. Eventually, mom hopped back up on the stones to cuddle and play with her cub.
Mark Manka of Orchard Park, who came to the zoo Sunday with his wife and three sons, said it was touching to watch the lion bond with his family as he did the same with his own.
“It’s pretty inspirational,” he said. “They’re such majestic creatures. I’ve never seen lions play together as a family unit.”
Toby’s parents didn’t seem to mind all the attention focused on their cub.
“They’re used to it,” said Malia Somerville, the zoo’s general curator. “They were both born in zoos, so this is totally normal for them.”
Tiberius came from the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester and Lelei came from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Both of their parents came directly from Africa.
Toby is no longer a tiny cub. Weighing in at 30 pounds, he’s three times heavier than he was at birth. He still drinks a bit of formula, bottle fed by keepers standing on the other side of a mesh curtain. The bulk of his diet is made up of meat served in cub-sized portions.
In order for the cub to graduate to the public exhibit, he had to show that he could safely navigate the outdoor habitat. The development of his depth perception was key, since there are deep moats separating the lions from human spectators in the outdoor exhibit. In the summer of 2014, Luna, the polar bear, broke her ankle, when she fell into the moat of a similar exhibition space at the Buffalo Zoo. She is now in a new, much larger space that includes a Plexiglas wall through which visitors can see her underwater.
Toby was introduced to the outdoor habitat first alone, then with his mother.
Toby has been with his mother Lelei since birth. He was later introduced to his father through a glass partition. That visual introduction went smoothly, so the three were allowed to mingle together indoors and eventually move together outdoors. Toby has not yet been introduced to Lusaka, his mother’s sister.
Father and son are still separated at mealtimes because male lions can be competitive for food both in the wild and in captivity.
Toby is the first new lion cub to be born and survive at the zoo in 25 years. He was the only cub to survive from a litter of four born on March 5.
He is joined by the zoo’s newest arrival, a 2-year-old arctic fox rescue named Ash. Ash will be added to the Arctic Edge exhibit.