Zoo’s New Male Lion Explores Habitat for the First Time

NORFOLK, VA – The Virginia Zoo is thrilled to announce its new male lion, Ansel has arrived and can now be seen by visitors. Ansel was born at an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited partner Zoo, the Henry Vilas Zoo, in Madison, Wisconsin. When he arrived to the Virginia Zoo, he underwent a routine quarantine period where he spent time getting acquainted with his Zoo Keepers and where staff could closely monitor him to ensure a comfortable adjustment period to his new surroundings prior to being introduced onto exhibit. He has access to his indoor holding areas during the day so he will intermittently be out on exhibit in the coming weeks.

At age 5, he is considered fully grown weighing in at 450 pounds. Keepers say his most identifying features are his stout frame and his beautiful, full-bodied mane. He has been spending his time getting acquainted with his Zoo Keepers and completing his routine quarantine period.

“Not only are we excited to bring in this young family of lions, but we are also delighted at the prospect of having cubs in the near future which is crucial to the long-term survival of this species,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo.

Ansel will be joined by two females, Asha and Kali later this month. The females, who are sisters, will be turning 5 at the end of April. The trio was endorsed to be sent to the Virginia Zoo based on a breeding recommendation by the African Lion Species Survival Plan. 

Before the pride arrived, Africa Keepers and the Zoo’s Exhibit Project Coordinator used the opportunity to make modifications and improvements to the lion indoor spaces and habitat. Not only was the holding area repainted, but modifications to support a slow introduction process for the new lions (called “howdying,”), were added. New benches for sleeping or relaxing were added, a new water station was installed and updated safety measured were added in preparations for pride’s introductions.

After the females arrive and complete a routine quarantine period, the Zoo will be hosting a House Warming Party for the newcomers with Keeper Chats, enrichment, educational activities and a fundraiser to support lion conservation. Stay tuned to the Zoo’s social media for more information on Ansel, Asha and Kali coming soon.

About the African Lions

Lions are considered to be vulnerable to extinction according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The lion population has dropped by 43 percent over the past 20 years due to several factors such as habitat loss, the decline of prey, and death due to humans defending their land, livestock and lives. Current data leads the IUCN to believe that there are less than 30,000 lions left in the wild.