NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - For the first time in five years, the lion’s roar can be heard at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Saturday, a four-year-old male named Arnold joins three-year-old females Nia, Kali and Zuri.
Arnold arrived in February from a wildlife safari park in Winston, Oregon and the female triplets from in March from Peoria, Illinois.
The new lion habitat is located in the zoo’s African Savanna near Monkey Hill.
“We’ve built this starting around a kopje, these big outcroppings in Africa that you see out on the plains,” said Joel Hamilton, Vice-President and General Curator at the Audubon Zoo.
Kopjes stick out in the real African Savannah like islands of rock.
“Lions often use them as a place to get up on top of the rocks, to look out over their kingdom,” Hamilton said.
The focal point is a replica of an abandoned 1920s-era train station, meant to symbolize the transportation system that once spanned lion county and opened to door to habitat loss and poaching.
The zoo uses the exhibit to educate visitors about the plight of these iconic creatures in the wild.
In just two decades, lion populations in the wild decreased by 43 percent to as few as 23,000, according to the African Wildlife Federation.
Conservationists blame the loss of habitat and human-lion conflicts.
Lions have disappeared over 80% of their historic range, drawing them closer to humans.
As the populations of their natural prey decrease, lions attack livestock, according to the AFW, causing farmers to kill the big cats.
Lions are also being killed in rituals of bravery, as hunting trophies, and for their perceived medicinal and magical powers.
To mark opening weekend, visitors to any Audubon Nature Institute facility can round up their purchases to benefit lion conservation efforts in Africa.
Money raised will go to the Ruaha Carnivore Project in Tanzania, part of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Audubon said.
The new habitat was made possible by a $5 million donation from philanthropists Joy and Boysie Bollinger.