Lincoln Park Zoo introduces 10-week-old lion cub to public: ‘Oh my God, they’re here!’

The lion cub, born March 15, is named Pilipili, after the Swahili word for “pepper.”

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Pilipili sits beside his mother Zari during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Saturday morning, May 28, 2022. Pilipili, which stands for “pepper” in Swahili, is a 10-week-old lion cub and is the first African lion cub born in the zoo in two decades, according to a press release.

Pilipili sits beside his mother Zari during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Saturday morning, May 28, 2022. Pilipili, which stands for “pepper” in Swahili, is a 10-week-old lion cub and is the first African lion cub born in the zoo in two decades, according to a press release.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

For the first time in 20 years, Lincoln Park had its “Lion King” moment.

The storied Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed its newest lion cub to the pride in March, and the youngster was officially welcomed into the city Saturday as he explored the outdoors for the first time.

Pilipili and his mother Zari run around while spectators watch during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pilipili and his mother Zari run around while spectators watch during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pilipili is a 10-week-old African lion cub, the son of adult lions Jabari and Zari. Pilipili is the Swahili word meaning “pepper,” a nod to the Pepper family responsible for funding much of the zoo’s lion exhibit and viewing area.

Pilipili timidly emerged from the covered area of the exhibit, and around 1,200 Lincoln Park Zoo members watched as he grew more confident and playful during an early viewing of the cub. At several points, Zari picked up her son by the scruff of his neck using her teeth.

Zari carries her lion cub Pilipili down a ramp during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Zari carries her lion cub Pilipili down a ramp during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I’ve seen that in ‘The Lion King,’ but I’ve never seen it in real life,” spectator Morgan Swinford said.

Those in the crowd craned their necks and camera phones to get the best view of the 20-pound cub as he sauntered through the exhibit. When he climbed on rocks or approached the glass, excited gasps and children’s screeches rang through the zoo.

Pilipili stands on a rock during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pilipili stands on a rock during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pilipili is the first African lion cub born at the zoo in 20 years. It’s not only an exciting moment for the zoo and the city, but an important milestone for preserving the species, according to Mike Murray, the zoo’s curator of mammals

While Zari may appear more involved with Pilipili, her mate and sisters — Cleo and Hasira — all play important roles in Pilipili’s development as he grows, Murray said.

“It takes the pride,” he said.

Zari and her lion cub Pilipili look at Pilipili’s father Jabari as he walks during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Zari and her lion cub Pilipili look at Pilipili’s father Jabari as he walks during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

For parents and kids alike, the new lion cub was a source of excitement and awe.

“When the mom and her baby first walked out, it was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re here!’” said Tracy Sohn, who brought her 18-month-old, animal-loving daughter Charlotte to see Pilipili.

She added: “To be able to see in real life instead of reading pictures in books… I think that experience is invaluable.”

Pilipili is seen through a glass roof during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pilipili is seen through a glass roof during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Avid zoo-goers like 9-year-old Anton Seals III and his mom Amissah Lemieux Seals fawned over the family of lions, watching their every move.

“That’s me and you,” Anton said to his mom while watching Pilipili follow Zari around the habitat.

Zari tries to pick up her lion cub Pilipili during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Zari tries to pick up her lion cub Pilipili during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pilipili stands in front of his father Jabari as he walks around during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo on Saturday.

Pilipili stands in front of his father Jabari as he walks around during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pilipili sits beside his mother Zari during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pilipili sits beside his mother Zari during a media and member debut of the lion cub at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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