Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is preparing for the arrival of a female Amur tiger, Mila [MEE-luh], in early March and the departure of a male African lion, Boma [BOH-muh], in late March. The two moves support their respective Species Survival Plans, but aren’t necessarily immediate breeding recommendations. Organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) often work together, like this, to provide the best homes available as animals mature and develop different needs, like additional space or new social opportunities.
Mila, who will turn two on May 1, will travel to CMZoo from Toronto Zoo, where she was born and has lived with her mother, Mazy, until recently. Tigers are typically solitary in the wild, so Mila is prime to embrace the world as an independent young adult tiger, but she’s still a little young to become a mom herself. CMZoo’s tiger habitat in Asian Highlands has plenty of space to make a home for Mila.
Chewy, CMZoo’s nearly 8-year-old male Amur tiger, and Mila will certainly be aware of each other’s presence in the tiger building, where they’ll have separate dens, or in the yards they will take turns exploring. However, there are no immediate plans to introduce the tigers.
For animal transfers, keeper teams from both zoos typically work together to make animal moves as low stress as possible for all involved. They share information about an animal’s favorite treats, enrichment items, trained behaviors, den setups, behavioral tendencies and more. This helps the animal’s new care team provide the best possible welfare once the animal arrives.
“This is Mila’s first-ever move, so we want to make it as positive an experience as possible for her,” said Rebecca Zwicker, animal care manager in Asian Highlands. “She has been Toronto’s sweetheart, so we’re happy to welcome her to our community where we know she’ll be equally admired and respected with a life of choice, opportunity and care.”
Mila’s team will follow her lead as she learns the new faces, spaces and smells at CMZoo. Once she arrives, they’ll focus on building trusting relationships with her through training, enrichment, positive reinforcement and lots of her favorite activities and meals.
“There’s no need to rush things,” said Zwicker. “We’ll be excited to share her with guests as soon as Mila shows us she’s ready.”
Unlike tigers, African lions are social animals. As they mature, they sometimes outgrow their family units. Seven-year-old Boma, who was born at CMZoo in 2015 and has been living with his brother Aslan for the last several years, is showing signs he’s ready for his own pride.
Boma is moving to another AZA-accredited organization in California, where he will be the only male in the pride. Because Boma’s genetics are well represented in the assurance population of African lions in human care, this move is unlikely to result in a breeding recommendation.
“A huge part of our role as keepers is to provide the best possible environments for our animals,” said Rachael Hahn, African Rift Valley senior lead keeper. “When you see an animal is telling you it’s time for something new, we embrace the fact that there’s a reward for them that far outweighs the risk. Of course, it’s hard to say goodbye when an animal moves on, but we really think this new place and pride are going to be perfect for him.”
To prepare him for his road trip, the African Rift Valley animal care team has been familiarizing Boma with his travel crate and making sure he’s in tip-top shape to make the trip. Boma’s keepers at CMZoo have been in contact with his new care team in California, so they can welcome Boma and be aware of his tendencies, preferences and motivators.
“Boma is probably our most confident lion,” said Hahn. “I can just see him strutting into his new home with his impressive presence and quickly winning the hearts of the team and the respect of his new pride.”
With Boma leaving, African Rift Valley keepers are working to provide Aslan with social opportunities, too. Four African lions will remain at CMZoo: the patriarch, Abuto, the aging matriarch, Lomela, their daughter, Elsa, and their son, Aslan. The long-term plan is for Elsa and Aslan to share space, with interbreeding preventions in place, and for Lomela and Abuto to share space. The introduction plan will be ongoing, so guests may see groups of two or three lions together as the care team works to support the changes in the pride.
Guests who want to wish Boma well on his new adventure should do so before Mon., March 27. CMZoo will provide social media updates on Mila’s arrival, including when guests might be able to see her in Asian Highlands, as she settles in.