Living a Zoo Dream – African Lions


One of the best parts about working at a zoo is getting to experience the place during the “off” hours.

Our animals have unique behaviors, especially early in the morning and toward evening. One of my favorite examples is the lions roaring. Often as I sit down at my desk in the morning checking e-mails, I hear a loud, guttural roar from outside my window.

It’s not the type of roar you often see and hear from lions on TV, but more of a deep-throated growl. I also hear them many evenings as I walk to my truck getting ready to leave for the day. It causes me to pause and reflect on the amazing experience of working around these animals on a daily basis.

This past week, I got the opportunity to job-shadow our carnivore keeper as she cared for our lovely meat lovers. This included the tiger, the snow leopard, the lynx and the lions. We have three resident lions at the Lake Superior Zoo: Lily, Malkia, and Leo. Lily and Malkia are the females and weigh approximately 320 pounds and 285 pounds, respectively. Leo, our male lion, weighs a little over 400 pounds.

As I worked with our keeper behind the scenes to feed, clean up after and observe these majestic animals, I became mesmerized by their grace and beauty while they traversed their exhibit, interacted with one another and played with their toys.

But when given their food, it was plain to see that these are powerful and wild animals. If I got within 5 feet of them (obviously, with fencing between us), Leo would bare his teeth, roar and kindly insist that I stay away. Lily and Malkia were a little less aggressive towards me but still kept a wary eye on me, as I was a stranger in their home.

If you stop by the zoo, take a few minutes to watch these great animals. You will quickly see their unique personalities, and traits. Often, they will come up to the glass to greet you, allowing you to fully appreciate their size and beauty.

In addition to “playing” with animals as the zoo, my week was busy working with staff to plan upcoming zoo-related events, research new animal exhibits and continue to familiarize myself with the zoo’s long-term concept plan. More details on all of these items will be coming out in the next weeks and months, so please stay tuned.

I have also enjoyed learning more about the Duluth area and its unique traits. I watched a hockey game at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, took a walk on the Superior Hiking Trail and watched Spike, the zoo’s porcupine, give his annual Groundhog Day report.

On a personal note, it was a great weekend getting to watch both of my boys (Oliver and Payton) play in some exciting hockey games, take a lovely walk with my wife, Lindsay, and enjoy great food and stories with friends while watching the Super Bowl.

I even got to have lunch with my youngest son, Oliver (age 6), at his school. It is somewhat embarrassing to say, but it is the first time I have ever done so. It was great to see his excitement and surprise when I arrived and how he introduced me to all of his school friends.

It is easy to forget to take time for these experiences with friends and family, but they are truly food for the soul. So take a few minutes and do a crossword with your wife or husband, tell your son or daughter about your childhood, or give you mom a call. (Yes, Mom, I’ll try to that.)

Corey Leet is CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo. You can contact him at or 218-730-4500, extension 203. Find his blog at and on the Lake Superior Zoo’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

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