A new mane attraction: Male lion arrives at North Carolina Zoo

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Thursday, February 23, 2023
Haji, the NC Zoo's new male lion, makes himself at home
Haji, the NC Zoo's new male lion, makes himself at home. (Raw video)

ASHEBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's a new mane attraction at the North Carolina Zoo.

The Zoo announced Thursday that Haji, a 3-year-old male weighing 400 pounds came from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans as a companion for the Zoo's female lion, Mekita, 13.

Haji is looking to step into the shoes -- or paws -- of Mekita's last mate, 23-year-old Reilly, who died in August 2022 after 21 years at the zoo.

His death left Mekita as the zoo's only lion, and Haji was brought in as a companion since lions are social animals.

Haji is the NC Zoo's new male lion.
North Carolina Zoo

Although Haji arrived in December, guests could only catch a glimpse of him in the past several weeks. During that time, Haji and Mekita have been going through introductions. The zoo said introducing lions to new companions and habitats can be a lengthy process.

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"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."

Right now, the big cats are rotating in and out of the outdoor habitat. Ireland said Haji and Mekita would eventually be able to roam the habitat together as they become more comfortable with each other.

"We are seeing some positive signs in their introductions, such as vocalizations to each other," she said.

A lion's lifespan in the wild is about 10-15 years. Male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years.