The $16 million African Savannah facility at Hogle Zoo opened its doors to the public Friday, showcasing a new lion exhibit. After the death of the last Hogle lion ten years ago, the zoo waited to house new cats until the completion of the planned facility.
Two male lions, brothers Baron and Vulcan, were introduced to the public Friday and Erica Hansen with Hogle Zoo says they have very distinct personalities.
"They've been as calm and wonderful as cats can be," said Hansen. "Baron is a little calmer; he's kind of the little more relaxed of the two. Vulcan is a little more, I guess, kind of scrappy or 'up in your face'. He's the one that seems the most curious."
The zoo also received two, two-year-old female lions from Woodland Park Zoo. However, Hansen says they are shyer than the boys. Zoo officials hope to one day breed the lions, but plan to wait until the females become older and more acclimated to the new environment.
Hansen says the lion facility is only the first phase of the two-part savannah experience. The second phase, a “grasslands” portion will contain mixed species such as giraffes, zebras, nyala, guinea fowl and ostriches.
The new facilities also bring with them the return of two old friends to the zoo: the train ride and “Leo” the iconic lion drinking fountain.
"Anybody who has spent any time here or grew up here as a child has probably stuck their head in that lion drinking fountain's mouth," said Hansen. "So it's been so fun to watch a new generation of kids out there getting their drinks and they're a little bit afraid of him, some of the younger kids, and it's just really fun to have Leo return."
The lion portion of the exhibit is now open and the grasslands phase is scheduled to open later this month.