ASHEBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — There’s a new king of the jungle at the North Carolina Zoo!
Haji, a 3-year-old male lion, was announced as the NC Zoo’s latest arrival on Thursday, and guests can now see him in the lion habitat.
Haji weighs 400 pounds and came by way of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans to be a companion for the NC Zoo’s 13-year-old female lion Mekita.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommended that the two be paired together.
Mekita’s last mate, Reilly, died in August 2022 at the age of 23. She was the only lion left at the NC Zoo as result. Reilly spent 21 years in Ashesboro most of which was with Mekita
Haji arrived at his new home in December 2022, but guests have only been able to catch glimpses of him. Haji and Mekita have been getting acquainted with one another in their indoor quarters.
The process is comparable to chaperoned courtship. Zoo officials say that introducing lions to new companions and habitats can be a lengthy process.
Haji and Mekita are now on a rotating schedule where guests can see them on habitat. Guests should be able to spot Haji by his growing mane (look for his distinctive mohawk style). His mane will continue to grow and darken as he ages.
“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.”
Zoo officials say the new couple will eventually be able to roam their habitat together as they become more comfortable with each other.