Upepo, (pronounced ew-PEP-oh), a five-year-old male African lion, made his official public debut in the Valley of the Kings habitat this morning.  The 400-pound lion, whose name means “wind” in Swahili, travelled to Knoxville from Wildlife Safari park in Winston, Oregon, in July. 

Knoxville Opera performers Aubrey and Wayd Odle, accompanied by artistic director Brian Salesky, welcomed the 400-pound lion by performing popular animal songs from classic movies. 

Upepo comes to Knoxville on the recommendation of the African Lion Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to save lions from extinction.  Since 1995, half the world’s lion population has been lost due to illegal poaching, habitat loss and loss of prey.  Lions occupy only 8% of their historic range today and have been wiped out from 26 countries.  The AZA is working to increase the number of African lions in the wild through public engagement and partnering with those working on the ground in Africa. 

Zoo Knoxville is a nonprofit entity situated on 53 wooded acres just east of downtown Knoxville. Zoo Knoxville features exhibits of wild animals in natural habitats and is world renowned for its efforts in conservation and species survival. Zoo Knoxville is nationally accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is committed to the highest standards in animal care and well-being, ethics, conservation, and education. Knoxville’s largest attraction, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Currently, the zoo is open Monday through Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.   Admission and ticket sales stop one-hour before the zoo closes. For more information visit zooknoxville.org.