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CHICAGO — The Lincoln Park Zoo is celebrating a birth long in the making.

Amidst the exciting time, visitors have come from far and wide to get a look at the young boy who shall be king. Born in March, Pilipili is the first cub to arrive at the zoo in quite some time, 20 years to be exact, says zoo worker Cassie Kutilek. 

Pilipili (Photo/WGN)

“We are really excited,” she said.  

Pilipili’s mom, Zari, was pregnant with her cub for almost four months. With a long man mane, the cub’s father, Jabari, is always nearby. Zoo workers say that the courtship between father and mother was on after a slow, step-by-step introduction.

“It was instantaneous,” Kutilek said. “When Jabari and Zari met, they were cheek rubbing. They were vocalizing to each other. He would call her. She would call him back,” Kutilek said.  

Now with a little one to look after, the ever-inquisitive cub can be seen exploring his Savannah-like home inch-for-inch. Keeping watch not too far away are Cleo and Hasari, Zari’s two sisters. 

The new lion cub’s name is Pilipili, which is Swahili for Pepper. It’s also a nod to new the multi-million dollar General Pepper Family Wildlife Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Rearing the one-day Lion King is a group effort. The sisters are quick to step in when needed. Like Lions in the wild, their daily routines are similar.

“Dawn and dusk, they’re active, they’re moving around, they’re training, and then when you get into the heat of the day, whether that’s the heat of Chicago or the heart of Africa, they’re just going to sleep,” Kutilek said.

Cub Pilipili with father Jabari. (Photo/WGN)

The lion’s diet consists of 100% protein, consisting of meat and bones.

“So they get shank bones, like naked bones, as we would call them,” Kutilek said. “It’s just a bone with no meat, but they also get meaty shank bones right off the cow. They also get a zoo-based carnivore meat diet and other animal-based diets. All meat all the time.”

The zoo’s effort is part of a national conservation endeavor to help big cats.  

Amid the newly renovated zoo enclosure, what is learned here about their habits, interactions, their do’s and don’ts, is shared and applied to helping felines in the wild of Savannah’s Africa and the new homes that are bigger and better.

“This entire environment is 42% larger than the last environment,” Kutilek said.