Top Dog

November 2, 2018, Department, by Suzanne Nathan

2018 November Park Bench 410

What should a zoo do with a lion cub that needs to be separated from his mother’s care for a couple of months while a wound heals? In February 2017, following the birth of Hondo, a lion cub at the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park (IFZ), his mother, Kimani, unintentionally gave him a puncture wound while carrying him. Her constant licking of the wound with her rough tongue caused it to worsen, so the IFZ staff treated the wound and removed Hondo from the lion pride so he could heal.

But, the staff knew Hondo needed to continue to have comforting animal interaction, which is critical for the normal development of lion cubs. When they reached out to the Humane Society of the Upper Valley (HSUV), the HSUV staff knew they had the perfect candidate – Justice, a Great Pyrenees dog. Justice and her puppies were found in the desert west of Idaho Falls. She was not in good condition at the time, but she was taking great care of her litter, all of whom had since been adopted.

Justice and Hondo were introduced at the zoo, which is part of the City of Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation Department. It took 3–4 days for the two to warm up to each other, but once they did, Justice became Hondo’s surrogate mother, caring for him, teaching him social etiquette, important play skills and how to behave like a carnivore.

After eight weeks together, Hondo’s wound healed, and he was ready to be reunited with his mother. The reintroduction was successful, thanks in large part to the social development Hondo acquired while with Justice.

Hondo is now 320 pounds and thriving in his pride at IFZ. As for Justice, the staff fell in love with her, as do visitors who meet her. “Justice is now an animal ambassador of the zoo and a welcoming presence,” says Sunny Katseanes, IFZ curator of education. “This may be the only zoo where patrons ask, ‘Where is your dog?’” she adds. During the off-season, Justice goes on school visits with IFZ staff as she continues to teach youth, this time humans.

Suzanne Nathan is NRPA’s Media Specialist.