For the first time in 20 years, Lincoln Park had its “Lion King” moment.
The legendary Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed its new cub to pride in March, and the youngster was officially welcomed to the city on Saturday as he explored the outdoors for the first time.
Pilipili is a 10 week old African lion cub, son of adult lions Jabari and Zari. Pilipili is the Swahili word for “pepper,” a nod to the Pepper family responsible for funding much of the zoo’s lion exhibit and viewing area.
Pilipili tentatively emerged from the indoor exhibit area, and about 1,200 Lincoln Park Zoo members watched as he grew more confident and playful on a first viewing of the cub. On several occasions, Zari grabbed her son by the scruff of the neck using her teeth.
“I saw this in ‘The Lion King,’ but I’ve never seen it in real life,” said viewer Morgan Swinford.
Crowd members craned their necks and camera phones to get the best view of the 20-pounder as he strolled through the exhibit. When he climbed on rocks or approached the glass, excited gasps and cries of children echoed through the zoo.
Pilipili is the first African lion cub born at the zoo in 20 years. This is not just an exciting time for the zoo and the city, but an important step for the preservation of the species, according to Mike Murray, curator of mammals at the zoo.
While Zari may seem more involved with Pilipili, his partner and sisters – Cleo and Hasira – all play a big role in Pilipili’s development as he grows up, Murray said.
“It takes pride,” he said.
For parents and children alike, the new lion cub was a source of excitement and admiration.
“When the mother and her baby first came out, it was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re here!
She added: “Being able to see in real life instead of reading pictures in books… I think that experience is invaluable.
Zoo enthusiasts like 9-year-old Anton Seals III and his mother Amissah Lemieux Seals adored the family of lions, watching their every move.
“It’s you and me,” Anton told his mother as he watched Pilipili follow Zari into the habitat.