PORTLAND, Ore. He's a 500-pound mega-carnivore capable of pulling a buffalo to the ground, but Zawadi Mungu now plays a new role: cat toy.
Last week, the male lion ventured outside with his trio of energetic cubs for the first time, and demonstrated a remarkable tolerance for a flurry of pint-sized attacks on his mane, tail and patience.
The cubs were first introduced to their dad in their indoor den a few days earlier.
"We were confident that Zawadi would be tolerant of his cubs right away, and we're glad we were right because the cubs rushed him as soon as they saw him," said Laura Weiner, senior keeper for the zoo's Africa section. "At first he was surprised, but as time passed he grew more patient. A few days later, he was grooming them."
Outside, the cubs were less bold in their initial approach, as Zawadi towered over them from the top of the Predators of the Serengeti habitat. The cubs' mother, Neka, and the pride's other female, Kya, were close by.
"Within minutes, he had five female lions swarming him," Weiner said. "I think all of that attention must have been overwhelming because he quickly jumped onto a boulder."
The pride has continued spending time together outdoors, where they've also shared meals. The cubs, now 10 times their birth weight, rarely nurse.
Keepers say lion cub Zalika, who had a mild temperament in her infancy, is especially playful with Zawadi, jumping on him and biting his mane.
Visitors can see the lion family together on most days above 45 degrees.