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Welcome, Ansel! New lion checks out his habitat at Virginia Zoo

He's about to be joined by sisters Asha and Kali, who are about to turn five, too. The zoo is hoping they'll have cubs soon.

NORFOLK, Va. — The newest resident to move to Norfolk is five years old, 450 pounds and sports a handsome, tawny mane. Say hello to Ansel the lion!

He's already been through an adjustment period with zookeepers, getting used to new surroundings and routines. The Virginia Zoo was letting Ansel run around in his new exhibit Thursday.

Ashley Mars, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said he was born in Madison, Wisconsin at the Henry Vilas Zoo.

He's about to be joined by sisters Asha and Kali, who are about to turn five, too. Mars said the zoo is hoping that they'll have cubs soon, to help with the overall species survival plan.

This is all coming a few months after the zoo lost Mramba, its former male lion. He was 18 years old and suffered from kidney problems. The typical lifespan of a lion is 10-14 years.

In the months between Mramba's passing and Ansel's arrival, Mars said the zoo made some upgrades to their lion enclosure. It's been repainted, and staff has added new sleeping benches for the kitties, and another water station.

The exhibit was also updated to help keepers slowly introduce new lions to each other. They call that the "howdying" process.

Mars said Asha and Kali would be joining Ansel by the end of the month. They'll need an adjustment period too, but after that, keepers hope to hold a "house warming party" for the big cats.

If you want to visit the zoo, it's at 3500 Granby Street in Norfolk. To buy tickets in advance, visit the Virginia Zoo website.

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