Meet Binti, first lion cub born at Detroit Zoo in 40 years

The Detroit News

Just in time for Christmas, the Detroit Zoo and its visitors have a gift 40 years in the making: a new female lion cub.

Binti was born Sept. 10, the first lion birth at the site since 1980, the Detroit Zoological Society announced Tuesday.

Her name means “daughter” in Swahili.


For the first few weeks of her life, she lived in an incubator as staff gave her daily bottle feedings from 6 a.m. until midnight, zoo officials said.

The recorded sounds and scents of the adult lions were introduced to help her prepare for later interactions, and as she grew stronger, Binti graduated to a larger playpen and transitioned from milk to solid foods before spending time in the lion habitat’s indoor area near the adult lions.

“She has grown so much, has a lot of energy, and is very curious and playful,” said Elizabeth Arbaugh, the zoo's curator of mammals. “She is learning to live with other lions, starting with her aunt, Amirah. We expect that she will eventually live with her entire family as a member of the Detroit Zoo pride.”

Binti's mother, 4-year-old lioness Asha, underwent a cesarean section after going into labor naturally but then failed to give birth, officials said in a statement. Three other cubs were stillborn."

Asha and a sister, Amirah, came to the zoo from the Buffalo Zoo last year as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Program. 

Binti’s father, Simba, once lived with the royal family of Qatar and found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo in 2013 when his owners voluntarily relinquished him. 

"Asha’s life-saving surgery and recovery meant that the normal bonding process could not occur," the zoo said. "Socialization, especially with other female lions, is critical to Binti’s social development; fortunately, the cub has formed a strong bond with her aunt, Amirah."

The lion habitat at the Detroit Zoo features grassy terrain, a shallow pool, elevated ledges that give lions high vantage points from which to watch visitors, and a 17-foot-tall acrylic wall for close-up views of lions by guests. Warming rocks near the front of the habitat provide the lions with toasty resting areas in cooler weather.

Lions normally are seen outside unless temperatures are below freezing. Binti can return to the lion habitat building on chilly days and may not be visible to guests when temperatures are below 40.

Information on zoo reservations is available online