KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Zoo Knoxville has been working on a lion love connection for several months now, and we didn't even know it!
Upepo the lion came to Zoo Knoxville from Wildlife Safari in Oregon last summer in hopes that he would be the zoo's new breeding male. All he needed, of course, was a mate!
Enter 3-year-old Amara, who came to the zoo in November from Riverbank Zoo in South Carolina.
Now, of course, if you've ever introduced two cats to each other in your home, you know it's a bit of a process. And for these big cats, it's even more of a challenge, because these large carnivores could easily injure or even kill each other.
"We've been working to get them together for the last few months," said Terry Cannon, Curator of Carnivores and Kids Cove. "It's been a challenge. She's young, he's never been with females."
The keepers started out by putting them in enclosures side by side, where they could see and smell each other. That's called the "howdy" phase where it's hoped they get used to being together.
Eventually, once both lions seemed comfortable, keepers opened the door between them and hoped for the best!
"We've had to take steps back from time to time," admitted Cannon, who said this has been one of the longest introduction processes of his career.
But now finally, the two are on exhibit together on Wednesday and even spent the night before in the den together.
"None of my staff, nor I, slept well last night," he said. "But they were okay this morning."
Cannon said in the last three days, the two have made "leaps and bounds" of progress" and they soon hope to see them lying together in close proximity.
Zookeepers have seen breeding behavior between the two, and that's a very good sign of the end goal--- cute, adorable lion cubs!
"Hopefully in the not-so-distant future," said Cannon.
Zoo Knoxville is also hoping its tigers will make a love connection, and have gone to great lengths in the hopes of seeing tiger cubs in the future. Check it out in the video below: