This is a paid piece from the Great Plains Zoo.

Simplified: The Great Plains Zoo welcomed two African lions to a brand new habitat earlier this year, and as the exhibit opens to the public, zookeepers sat down with Sioux Falls Simplified to answer all of your lion-related questions.

Why it matters

  • Sioux Falls' zoo is home to lions for the first time in 30 years. Lions Simba and Amahle made their public debut last week in their brand new, 7,000-square-foot habitat.
  • The habitat is built with a future family of lion cubs in mind if the two lions should decide to mate. It's also built with Simba's allergies in mind – using specific grasses, trees and plants that shouldn't trigger a reaction, according to Angie Blommer, carnivore supervisor for the zoo.
  • While the outdoor portion of the habitat that's visible to zoo guests is not quite yet ready for the lions to enjoy, the animals do have both indoor-outdoor access throughout the day, and zookeepers are also working to get the two animals used to one another so they can share space at some point, too.
"As we renovate this zoo, the lion exhibit is a great example of species-specific habitats we want to create that will exceed AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) standards," said Denise DePaolo, PR and marketing director.

Tell me more about the habitat

The habitat was designed with the future in mind – including a pond area to accommodate any playful cubs on the horizon.

The space also takes into account lions' natural desire to sit up high and observe the world below. There are small hills and large rocks for climbing and resting.

Lions also need a good deal of shade, which they'll have with a number of trees planted in the exhibit.

  • And, in the colder months, the lions have a heated patio that will allow them to enjoy the outdoors while still staying nice and cozy.

Much like a typical house cat, lions also need something to scratch, which is why you'll see downed trees and logs in the exhibit for them to play with and scratch.

Behind the scenes, lions also have a private outdoor area where they can get some fresh air outside the public view. They've also got private indoor space for times when they need some alone time.

Tell me more about the lions

(Your questions about the lions, answered by the humans who take care of them)

How are they adjusting to Sioux Falls?

Very well, Blommer said. Because both Simba and Amahle came from other AZA accredited zoos, the zoo staff had quite a bit of information on the animals – from their diet to their daily schedule.

"We can tell they feel safe," Blommer said, noting that the zoo's carnivore team knows how to identify normal behaviors.

What do they eat?

Meat. They get a special restaurant-quality diet of ground meat mixed with organs to ensure they get all of the nutrients they need.

How much do they sleep?

Lions, much like any cat, would most often rather be asleep. They can sleep up to 20 hours per day, and adult lions will sleep for longer stretches than cubs, who – much like human babies – take lots of shorter naps.

How did the zoo get these specific lions?

The lions were selected for the zoo by an organization called SAFE African Lion, which works to monitor the lion population and help ensure strong genetics among potential mates.

  • Simba, 15, was first selected to come to Sioux Falls because of his allergies and reactions to his habitat in the Detroit Zoo. Because the Sioux Falls habitat is brand new, the zoo was able to cater to his specific needs.
  • Amahle, 10, was then selected to come to Sioux Falls from Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

Why are the two lions being kept separate right now?

Simba and Amahle are still getting used to each other, so they're not quite ready to share space. Zookeepers have them swapping sides of the exhibit so they can get acclimated to one another's scent, and they'll follow the lions' cues to know when they're ready to hang out.