Recommended as a breeding pair by the lion species survival plan, Maji and Mumford are making it work.

As anyone who’s ever gone on a blind date knows, fix-ups have a high failure rate.

That can even be true in the conservation world, when animals carefully chosen for their diverse backgrounds and species-preserving genetics decide they just don’t want a second date.

“What works on paper doesn’t always work when the animals meet face to face,” says Hans Jorgensen, a large cat keeper at Como Zoo. “But for Maji and Mumford, things seem to be going in the right direction.”

The two young lions are relatively recent arrivals to Como’s large cat building. Mumford, who was born in 2016 at Colorado’s Pueblo Zoo arrived at Como in May 2019, and quickly endeared himself to visitors with his rock-star mane, ground-shaking roar and playful nature. “Mumford enjoys attention, so he likes interactions with keepers,” says Jorgensen. Though he’s been known to destroy water bowls and other enrichment items in his habitat, he’s been “a big fan of the hanging ball we have out there,” Jorgensen says. “He really likes to push that around and play with it.”

Once Mumford was settled into his new home in St. Paul, Maji, a five-year-old female from an Oregon wildlife park moved in. “She’s much more cautious,” says Jorgensen. “She wants to make sure you know she’s tough, so she’ll growl at you, to make sure you know to stay a certain distance away, but she’s also very interested in keeper interaction.”

This spring, keepers tried to encourage Maji to explore the outdoor lion habitat on her own, but she wouldn’t budge. But toward the end of summer, as Maji got accustomed to seeing and smelling Mumford in their behind-the-scenes habitat, the keepers decided to enlist the male lion’s help in encouraging her to step outside. “We decided to put them together, and we think Mumford has really helped get her more curious and more comfortable in her new environment,” Jorgensen says. “Now she explores and has her favorite places to sit, and will occasionally even walk up to Mumford, which are all encouraging signs.”

The two young lions also share a favorite hobby–chewing, dragging, and rolling the large car and small lawn mower tires that are put in their habitat as enrichment  items. (“Anything less durable they would ingest and rip to shreds,” Jorgensen explains.) Maji will even steal Mumford’s tire–an animal behavior that also plays out regularly in middle school cafeterias.

Both cats are on the brink of sexual maturity, and will be able to breed soon after. “We’ve not seen any signs that she’s in estrus, but once that happens, lions tend to breed very quickly,” he says. If mating is successful, the pair could have cubs to care for in about 100 days.

While keepers are pleased that Maji and Mumford seem interested in each other, Jorgensen says they can’t take credit for making a good match. “It’s not up to us. We just have to let nature take its course.”

Zookeeper Hans Jorgensen hosted this virtual keeper talk on Como LIVE! As part of World Lion Day on August 10.

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