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National Zoo’s Lion Cubs Make Public Debut

December 19, 2010 - 6:00 AM | by: LA Holmes

It’s a bitterly cold, grey weekend in the nation’s capital. The Washington Redskins are in Dallas, without their first-string quarterback or any hope of reaching the postseason. Senators are on the Hill, butting heads on the last few measures in this lame duck Congress. Even the president is delaying his relaxing Christmas vacation in Hawaiian paradise for weekend work.

But one ray of sunshine promises to lift the spirits of this dreary city.

Make that seven rays of sunshine.

Seven little lion cubs made their public debut Saturday, to the “oohs” and “aahs” of an adoring crowd of contest winners, media, and Friends of the National Zoo.

Born in two litters on August 31 and September 22 to the Zoo’s male lion, Luke, and sister lionesses, Shera and Nababiep, the cubs were already stars in their own right thanks to webcams that captured all their cutest moments. But until now, they were just nameless balls of fluff.

The cubs’ new names were revealed to the public shortly before the cubs themselves made their grand entrance. Two groups of young children—elementary school students from Manassas, VA and a child care class from the Virginia Hospital Center—won the chance to name a female and male cub, respectively, through the Washington Post’s “Name a Cub: Cam Contest.”

Others drew their names from fictional characters (no, not “Simba” or “Mufasa”), Administration officials, and dearly departed friends. All told, the cubs complete the first full pride the National Zoo has seen in 20 years.

Shera’s Cubs—August 31, 2010

John: The only male cub in Shera’s litter, John draws his name from former Zoo director John Berry. Berry left his post at the helm to head up the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under President Obama in 2009. To tell him apart from the other cubs, zookeepers shaved a small patch of fur on John’s right shoulder.

Fahari: Meaning “magnificent” in Swahili, a language widely spoken in sub-Saharan Africa, Fahari was the name the National Zoo advisory board chose for Shera’s largest female cub. Fahari can be identified by the shaved spot on her right hip.

Zuri: The Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) board chose the Swahili word for “beautiful” for this female cub, because they say her coat is plusher and richer in color than her siblings. Zuri’s marker is on her left shoulder.

Lelie: First graders from Marshall Elementary in Manassas, VA won the contest to name this girl the Afrikaans word for lily, a flower common in Kruger Park, a South African wildlife preserve home to thousands of African lions. Lelie’s shaved spot is on her left hip.

Nababiep’s Cubs—September 22, 2010

Aslan: Named after the lion in C.S. Lewis’s popular novel series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Aslan was the first of the seven cubs to be christened, receiving his name December 10 at an event with George Henley and Skandar Keynes, stars of the new “Narnia” movie. Aslan is the cub with his right rib shaved.

Baruti: Identifiable by the shaved spot at the base of his tail, Baruti got his name from contest winners at Virginia Hospital Center’s Bright Horizons Child Care and Education. “Baruti” means “teacher” in Tswana, a language spoken in Botswana.

Lusaka: Nababiep’s only female cub, Lusaka stands out from the crowd with a shaved spot on her left ribs. The cub shares her name with the capital and largest city in Zambia, but her true namesake is the Zoo’s matriarch lioness who died in January. The keepers’ connection with the departed cat was evident—one of the elder Lusaka’s handlers came to tears as she unveiled the younger lion’s new name.

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