It’s not often that lions sire their cubs in the same zoo where they themselves were born. But then again, Michael is no ordinary lion.
Michael is not only at the top of the animal food chain, he’s at the top of the lion gene pool — the top 20 males of his species, to be exact.
As part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Program, Michael was the result of the purposeful breeding of two completely unrelated lions from Africa. This was done to ensure genetic diversity and increase the likelihood of survival for the species.
But his heritage is just one reason Michael is a special part of the SCZ family. From the beginning, Michael’s keepers could tell he was unique, with a shy yet curious disposition. As he grew older, he showed distinct respect for his female counterparts — Kianga and Patty — giving each lioness room to get to know him on her own terms. As a result, Michael has formed strong bonds with both females. It’s one of the main reasons he’s stayed at the Zoo — his ability to get along well with the other lions makes him an ideal father and mate.
These days, Michael definitely has family on his mind. Lions are family-oriented animals, and like many new dads, he’s learning what it means to be a good father.
He’s in the process of meeting his cubs, Eloise and Amira, who were born in late 2017. The cubs and Michael are being gradually introduced in a way that allows them to get used to each other. It’s important not to rush the process to avoid harmful interaction.
Once they’ve adjusted to each other, zookeepers are confident Michael will bond with the cubs, helping teach and look after them. Because both cubs are girls, it’s especially important for them to have positive experiences with a male lion so they can be successfully paired with a mate in the future. In the meantime, there is no doubt Michael will enjoy the opportunity to nurture and play with his young.
Make no mistake, though — Michael is no pussycat. At nearly 425 lbs., this magnificent big cat isn’t afraid to bare his teeth to protect his pride. This protective instinct may be one reason you’ll often find him sitting atop Pride Rock in the Pride of the Plains area, watching over the ones he loves.