The new African lion cub at the Cameron Park Zoo is “fat and sassy” and couldn’t have formed a better bond with her mother Leia, zookeepers said.

Rey, now almost 12 weeks old, has slowly started to make public appearances, giving visitors the opportunity to see a young member of species facing a high risk of extinction.

The cub is the first for Leia and Kaikane, said Terri Cox, curator of exhibits and programs. Zookeepers opted to stick with a “Star Wars” theme in naming the new lion cub since her mother was named after Princess Leia.

Zookeeper Megan Robertson said it was hard to keep the new arrival a secret until the public announcement. Excitement has been building among zoo staff as Rey has grown from her birth weight of 2 pounds to her current 20 pounds, Robertson said. Zoo staff wanted to wait until Rey was big enough to be allowed in the outside exhibit and give time for her to bond with mom, Robertson said.

Temperature has also played a factor in keeping Rey indoors. It must be at least 60 degrees for such a young cub to head outside. Weather permitting, Rey is making public appearances from 3 to 4 p.m. As she grows up she will be allowed outside for longer periods of time, she said.

“She is fat and sassy,” Cox said. “She doesn’t have much of a scruff for (Leia) to carry her around.”

Leia, originally from the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, is young herself at four years old, Cox said.

“They do play a lot because mom is young, and I think she kind of sees her as part baby, part playmate,” she said. “She’s very cute.”

Though Leia is young, she’s doing a great job as a mother despite the odds, Robertson said.

Big cats often struggle with their first litter, she said.

To add to the natural hardship, Leia’s own mother died while giving birth, so Leia had to be hand raised, she said.

“She kind of had those two things working against her,” Robertson said. “She’s been a fantastic mom since the beginning. They bonded really well.”

The Cameron Park Zoo will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

“We have a large group of elderly animals and a lot of babies coming on,” Cox said. “It’s a nice circle of life going on.”

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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