New lion king to head up pride of females at zoo after tragic past

Lionesses Hira, Narla, and Emma. Inset photo is pride leader, Khari <i>(Image: Alexandria Slater / LT)</i>
Lionesses Hira, Narla, and Emma. Inset photo is pride leader, Khari (Image: Alexandria Slater / LT)

Blackpool Zoo opened up their new Big Cat Habitat on Friday (May 26) which is home to a new pride led by a lion with a tragic backstory.

Khari the African lion, was born at Blackpool Zoo in May 2015 and his mum Rachel died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve.

This left Khari with his father Wallace, who took over the job of rearing him. They were one of the UK’s only successful coalition of male lions.

Unfortunately, Wallace died in 2022 due to age related issues so Khari, whose name means “like a king” in Swahili, is stepping up as pride leader.


Speaking on how well Khari has settled in after moving into the habitat this month, Zoo director Darren Webster said: “The first challenge was to find other zoos to look after our existing animals for 12 months but the great thing about the zoo community is we all work together, we all assist one another.

“So we were lucky enough to send Khari to Whipsnade Zoo where they looked after him and the plan was always to bring him back with a new pride of females.”

Emma and Narla, who are 18 and Hira, who will be four in September, all lived in a large, diverse pride and have close bonds with each other.

They will form a breeding group as part of the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP), with the females all helping each other to raise any cubs.

Khari hasn’t been around females since the death of his mum so the transition into the new environment is a slow one.

Darren added: “At this moment in time, we haven’t mixed Khari with the females so he’s got some learning to do so the introduction process needs to be gradual. But all the signs at the moment are that the girls are very interested in him and he seems to be very interested in them.”

Keepers have described Khari as an intelligent, strong and charismatic and say they are confident he will make an excellent pack leader.

Alyona, the Amur Tiger, travelled to Blackpool from her birthplace Safaripark Beekse Bergen in the Netherlands in 2012 as a mate for the late Zambar, who arrived in 2010 from Marwell Wildlife Park.

As Alyona is no longer part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), she is being joined by a male to form a companion pair later in the year.

Blackpool Zoo has been home to big cats since it opened its doors in 1972 and its £1.5m facility has changed the habitat for the animals for the better.

Darren said: “Both Amur tigers and African lions face many threats in the wild and we work hand in hand with in-situ conservation projects and charities across the world to raise money and awareness to help these magnificent animals.

“I am absolutely delighted to welcome Khari and Alyona home and introduce Hira, Narla and Emma to Blackpool. We’re looking forward to a male tiger joining Alyona later in the summer.”