The Reid Park Zoo's once-tiny African lion cubs are not so tiny anymore: Their first birthday is right around the corner.
The cubs were born on July 28, 2011. There are two males, Ayotunde and Abuto, and one female, Azizi. Their parents, Shombay and Kaya, were fit for reproducing at the ages of 3 and 4 years old, respectively, and as a result, Reid Park was graced with three healthy cubs.
This is not the first time the zoo is holding a birthday party. In fact, the zoo has been holding cat birthday parties for the last 7 years.
"We thought it'd be fun to give people a reason to come out to the zoo. We've had tiger birthdays and lion birthdays," said Kristen Metzger, the zoo's education supervisor. "... These guys were born right at the perfect time."
The birthday party will include crafts, games and educators talking about the lions.
Three months after the cubs were born, they were reintroduced to their father, Shombay. Shombay, of course, is a lot stronger than the cubs, so if they were to play and get rough, he could accidentally hurt them.
"Shombay has been nothing less than fantastic with the cubs. Once they met him, it was like a whole new world," said zookeeper Alisha Brewer. "He has been a saint with them. He was made to be a dad."
Brewer has been a zookeeper for 11 years and has been working with the lion family since the beginning.
"I love being a part of the growing process with the cubs, and the public is able to see it as well," said Brewer. "You can't stand in front of that exhibit and not have a smile from ear to ear. It's neat to celebrate their birthday."
Over the year, the cubs have grown dramatically. The smallest cub weighs 170 pounds, and the largest weighs 224 pounds—much more than half the size of Kaya, who weighs 380 pounds.
In addition to their physical growth, they have each grown their own unique personalities.
"Azizi is a momma's girl. She follows her mom around all the time, and Abuto, the middle male, is very drawn to his father and is the first to be the cause of trouble.
Ayotunde is more reserved and watchful," said Brewer. "It is very interesting."
The cubs will be with their mom and dad until they are transferred to another zoo to mate and start their own families. It is a process many of the zoo animals go through.
"We have not found a place yet, but we work with many other zoos across North America who need awesome lion cubs," said Metzger. "We anticipate that the demand for these guys will be great, and once that happens, we can decide if we want to breed mom and dad again."
But for now, the cubs are here to stay. There won't be any birthday cake at the event, but there will be a lot of delicious bloodsicles for the lions. What are bloodsicles? Exactly what it sounds like: They are popsicles made from the juice that runs off of meat.
"In addition to the bloodsicles, we'll have some toys out in the exhibit, and we're also going to have a bubble machine," said Brewer. "I'm curious to see how they'll respond."