You’re Gonna Hear Us Roar

By Sandy Masuo

This article originally ran in the Spring 2014 issue of Zoo View, the quarterly publication of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. Some details about the individual feline residents of the Los Angeles Zoo may not be accurate currently.

CJ Sumatran Tiger at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama
CJ the Sumatran tiger. Photo by Tad Motoyama.

Despite being charismatic and familiar species to people around the world, big cats everywhere are becoming increasingly rare and endangered in the wild. The Los Angeles Zoo works with four species of big cats representing three continents. With four new felines arriving in recent months—and more to come—there’s plenty to roar about.

In January, a breeding pair of young jaguars arrived—male Lucha from Philadelphia Zoo and female Maya from Palm Beach Zoo. Both completed quarantine in the off-exhibit area at the snow leopard exhibit—and will eventually also move into new digs in Rainforest of the Americas, along with male Kaloa, a long-time L.A. Zoo resident currently occupying a roundhouse in the South America section. (Construction of the new jaguar habitat, not included in the initial phase of Rainforest of the Americas, is expected to commence later this year.)

Jaguar Pair at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Jamie Pham Rainforests of America
Jaguar pair. Photo by Jamie Pham.

In preparation for their arrival, the Zoo’s construction division spruced up the snow leopard exhibit area, trimming trees, reinforcing the mesh, and adding a new concrete barrier. Introducing cats can be a challenge, and so far, Lucha and Maya have been living separately—though they have been gradually getting to know one another through a mesh barrier. When the time is right, animal care staff will bring them together.

The jaguars’ temporary living arrangements were made possible because, sadly, the snow leopards who had produced so many cubs over the years both passed away last year (at 15 and 19, they were both aged animals). The Zoo has had a long, successful history with the species, and a new breeding pair is on the horizon, which means a new chapter will begin.

A young male snow leopard at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in upstate New York has been selected by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to come to Los Angeles, hopefully by summer. After completing quarantine, he will take up residence in what is now the squirrel monkey exhibit. (The primates will temporarily move into another exhibit space.) Because this habitat is adjacent to the current jaguar exhibit, it has access to the holding areas designed to accommodate big cats. He is genetically very valuable, and still a youngster, so the SSP is carefully identifying a future mate for him.

Manning, the adult male Sumatran tiger who had sired eight offspring at the Zoo, passed away in January, and the SSP consultants are meeting this summer to decide whether to find a new mate for Lulu, our adult female. The other option is to transfer her to another zoo (to pair with a male there for companionship) and arrange for a new breeding pair to come to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Zoo visitors who have lamented the lack of lions in Los Angeles since the death of 23-year-old Cookie in September 2012 were thrilled by the arrival of a new duo, Hubert and Kalisa. The African lions arrived in February from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, where they lived together for many years. Each is 15 years old, and past breeding age. After completing quarantine, they made their public debut in late March.

Sumatran tiger Indah. Photo by Jamie Pham.

Before the arrival of the new lions, some fairly extensive modifications had to be made to the exhibit.

Lion exhibit modifications were challenging. Photo by Tad Motoyama.

“This is one of the original exhibits built when the Zoo opened at this location, and as is the case with a lot of the older habitats, it can be a challenge finding ways to upgrade it,” Construction Supervisor Tom LoVullo points out. After the moat had been drained, a leak around the drain box was discovered that had been allowing significant amounts of water to seep out. Further complicating the repairs, the appropriate pipes and apparatus had to be accessed without digging up the adjacent roadway. Once the repairs to the drainage system were complete, the whole moat had to be sandblasted, resurfaced, and resealed with epoxy paint.

Other modifications were behind-the-scenes upgrades to the holding area, which received new lighting and benches, fresh paint, and repairs to the existing caging, plus improvements to make management easier for keepers and cats.

“We refurbished the doors and added a ‘howdy’ door, which makes it easier to introduce new animals to each other—they can see and smell each other before they actually meet in the same space,” LoVullo says.

“While we were completing and opening Elephants of Asia, attention was focused on elephants, and then there were the new chimpanzee babies arriving last year,” comments Curator of Mammals Jennie Becker. “I’m happy to have the opportunity to work on our big cat collection.” ☐

African lions Kalisa and Hubert. Photo by Jamie Pham.

This article originally ran in the Spring 2014 issue of Zoo View, the award-winning quarterly publication of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. A subscription is complimentary with every level of membership.

As of this posting, the current Curator of Mammals is Candace Sclimenti, the Los Angeles Zoo’s jaguars are Kaloa and Maya, and the tigers are CJ and Indah.