ASHEBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — There’s a new cat in town with the arrival of a new male lion at the North Carolina Zoo.
Haji, who is 3 years old and weighs 400 pounds, came from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans as a companion for the North Carolina Zoo’s female lion, 13-year-old Mekita.
Mekita’s last mate — 23-year-old Reilly — died in August, leaving her as the zoo’s only lion, according to a news release. Reilly lived at the Zoo for 21 years, spending most of his time as Mekita’s mate.
Haji was brought to the zoo mainly as a companion for Mekita because lions are big cats that live in social groups called prides.
The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Lions Species Survival Plan recommended the pairing, the release said.
Haji arrived in December, but guests have only been able to catch a glimpse of him in the past several weeks.
“During that time, Haji and Mekita have been going through introductions — comparable to a chaperoned courtship — in their indoor quarters. Introducing lions to new companions and habitats can be a lengthy process,” the zoo said.
Haji and Mekita are now on a rotating schedule where guests can see them in their habitat. Guests should be able to spot Haji by his growing mane. His mane will continue to grow and darken as he ages.
“We’re excited our guests now get to see Haji more often,” said Jennifer Ireland, the zoo’s curator of mammals. “We’re giving Haji more time to explore his new habitat to help establish his territory. It takes a lot of time and patience to work with big cats. Right now, they can see and smell each other.”
Lion prides in the wild comprise a dominant male, several females and their offspring. They may sleep up to 20 hours per day. Lions are native to the savannahs and grasslands of Africa and can reach speeds up to 50 mph for very short bursts.
A lion’s average lifespan in the wild is about 10 to 15 years. Male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years. Males can weigh up to 570 pounds, while females weigh up to 277 pounds, according to the zoo.