The votes are in — more than 15,000 of them — and the 6-week-old lion cubs at the Oregon Zoo now have names instead of numbers. Following an online selection process that drew international attention to the zoo this past week, Neka’s cubs will henceforth be known as Kamali, Zalika and Angalia.
The zoo’s lion keepers had selected two possible names for each cub and last week invited the public to vote for their favorites via the zoo website. Until all the votes were in, zoo staffers had been referring to the cubs by the last digit of numbers assigned to them as part of the International Species Information System. Smallest to largest, they were Nos. 7, 8 and 9.
Kamali — previously known as cub No. 7 or sometimes Little Bit — is the smallest of the litter. Her new name, which comes from the Shona people of Zimbabwe and surrounding nations, denotes a spirit said to protect babies from death. Kamali faced some health issues last month and was hospitalized for nine days. Although she’s doing much better now, she remains significantly smaller than her two sisters.
Zalika, formerly cub No. 8, is the “middle cub” — not the biggest, not the smallest. Keepers say this sister is known for her mild temperament; her name, Swahili for “well-born,” is a nod to the cubs’ father, Zawadi Mungu, who is said to have a similarly sweet demeanor.
Angalia, aka cub No. 9, is the largest and most “outspoken” of the young trio, according to keepers. She had previously been nicknamed Feisty, and her new name — Swahili for “look out” or “be careful” — seems apt: Keepers say Angalia is the most likely of the trio to pounce on her sisters or swat at the tuft of her mom’s tail.
“The cubs all have distinct personalities, and now they have names to match,” said Laura Weiner, senior keeper for the zoo’s Africa section.
Weiner said the cubs, born Sept. 7, ventured outdoors for the first time this week, exploring a behind-the-scenes open-air enclosure with mulch flooring and obstacles such as rocks and logs to play among, climb onto and tumble from.
“They’re very active, tumbling around and climbing on everything,” Weiner said. “Angalia even jumped into the water container for a second, but she hopped right out. They’re still little now, but you can see them starting to show some of that apex predator attitude.”
The zoo’s three adult lions — Zawadi, Neka and Kya — came to the Oregon Zoo in 2009 based on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for African lions. Zawadi, the male, came from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the females, Neka and Kya, came from the Virginia Zoo and Wisconsin’s Racine Zoo respectively.