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National Zoo Reveals Names of Lion Cubs
The newly named cubs in the zoo's lion yard.
Credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

The seven lion cubs born at the Smithsonian National Zoo this past summer have all officially been named.

The names were chosen in part by the zoo, and in part through a contest hosted by the zoo and the Washington Post, in which contest participants sent in their suggestions for the names of two of the cubs and a video explaining why they nominated the names.

"We were touched to receive so many thoughtful name suggestions for the cubs from so many different sources," said Dennis Kelly, director of the zoo. "Each of the seven final names has a special meaning or connection that the cubs will carry with them during their time here at the National Zoo."

Three of the lion cubs were born to the zoo's 6-year-old lion Nababiep in September, just three weeks after her sister, 5-year-old Shera, gave birth to four cubs.

This morning, before the cubs made their debut in the lion yard, the zoo announced their names:

The names of Shera's cubs, which were born Aug. 31, are:

  • John: The sole male in the litter is named after John Berry, who was the zoo's director from 2006 to early 2009. Berry helped to bring the cub's mother Shera, aunt Nababiep and father Luke to the zoo in 2006.
  • Fahari (fah-HAH-ree): The National Zoo advisory board chose Fahari, which means "magnificent" in Swahili, for this cub. Keepers say that early in life she was the big eater among both litters and for a long time was larger than all of the other cubs, including her brother. Although that has changed recently, keepers are confident that she will continue to be bigger than life.
  • Zuri (ZUH-ree): The Friends of the National Zoo board chose the name Zuri for this female cub. Zuri means "beautiful" in Swahili. The lion keepers say it is a fitting name for a cub whose coat is thicker, plusher, and redder than the others in the pride.
  • Lelie (la-LEE-ay): Lelie is the winning female name submitted by a first-grade classroom at Marshall Elementary School in Manassas, Va., in the Name a Cub: Cam Contest. Lelie is Afrikaans for "lily," and the students selected it because lilies are common at Kruger National Park , which is the largest national park in South Africa and provides refuge to about 2,000 African lions.

The names of Nababiep's cubs, which were born Sept. 22, are:

  • Baruti (ba-ROO-tee): Baruti is the winning male name submitted by a daycare class at Bright Horizons Child Care & Education at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., in the Name a Cub: Cam Contest. Baruti is an African name meaning "teacher," which the class thought was appropriate for a lion that keepers describe as "quiet" and "calm."
  • Aslan: This cub received his name December 10, when Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes, actors in "The Chronicles of Narnia" movies, visited the zoo to reveal that the cub would be named Aslan after the lion in the films.
  • Lusaka (lu-SAH-ka): The name Lusaka holds a special place at the zoo it is the name of the beloved 18-year-old lioness that died at the zoo last January. The lion keepers decided it would be a nice tribute to the lion whom they considered the matriarch of the lion/tiger house and describe as having an "overload of personality." Keepers picked this cub in particular because she was Nababiep's sole female cub, and sometimes they see the older Lusaka reflected in Nababiep's disposition.

Both litters were sired by Luke, who was the Zoo's sole male lion until the birth of the cubs.

The two litters are the result of years of careful research and observation and the first for the zoo in more than 20 years.

Starting Dec. 20, lion keepers will decide on a day-to-day basis whether the cubs will spend any time in the yard, how long they will be out and when. This decision will be based on the weather and how the cubs adjust to being outdoors.

Eventually, the zoo hopes to develop a pride of African lions (Panthera leo) with the cubs, their mothers and their father.