Popcorn Park Roars With Pride As New Lion Arrives

Kanu, the latest addition to Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, celebrates his tenth birthday on January 19. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  FORKED RIVER – Popcorn Park Animal Refuge has added another purr-fect resident to its pride, who’s already stealing hearts. Kanu, a majestic African lion, arrived just before Christmas and just in time for his tenth birthday on January 19.

  This “mane” attraction brings a fresh roar to Popcorn Park’s already impressive big cat family, which includes three other African lions. Born in 2014, Kanu’s journey led him from a loving animal care facility in Pennsylvania to his new forever home at the Refuge. Though life threw him a curveball when he lost his mate, Kanu’s spirit remains undaunted.

  Kanu has quickly adapted to his new home, exploring his surroundings and showing a keen interest in his fellow lions, especially his neighbor, Simba. His gentle demeanor has already instantly resulted in human connections as well.

Kanu settled in quickly to his new surroundings. (Photo courtesy Popcorn Park)

  In the realm of animal communication, where dog whisperers are widely known, John Bergmann, the Director of Popcorn Park, seems to have earned an even more esteemed title – big game whisperer. As Bergmann approached the fence by Kanu’s den for introductions, he called out to the regal creature in a manner one might summon a domesticated cat in their home.

  “Kanu, hey my buddy, come here,” Bergmann appealed, with some added urging noises.

  The lion responded with what could only be described as a grin, turning his head as if already aware of the company – likely tipped off by the resonant roar of Simba on the other side of the wall.

  Though Kanu didn’t showcase one of his charming quirks during that specific interaction, it’s known that he has a penchant for carrying his paw in his mouth and playfully hopping around his enclosure – a delightful spectacle that never fails to bring smiles to all who witness it. Additionally, his evident curiosity about visitors adds to his charm.

  “He came to us in good health,” Bergmann said. “He’s a great addition here.”

Aslan and Savannah, an inseparable brother-sister duo, are the youngest of the lion pride and came from Canada. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  With the visit to Kanu drawing to a close, Bergmann expressed his desire to pay a quick visit to Simba next door – just a few steps away.

  Simba gracefully moved from the far end of the enclosure in a remarkable display of connection, positioning himself alongside the metal fence that separated the 19-year-old lion from his human admirer. Clearly delighted, Simba eagerly sought affection and pets from Bergmann through the fence, reveling in the warmth of kind words and human touch.

  Observing the majestic leader of the animal sanctuary wagging his tail in joyous appreciation was so moving that it had the power to bring tears to the eyes of any ordinary onlooker.

  Born on August 8, 2005, Simba and some other big cats arrived at Popcorn Park in 2014 from a facility in Alabama where the owner had become ill and could no longer care for them.

  Popcorn Park quickly renovated its big cat den to welcome these new residents, and Simba soon became a favorite among staff and visitors alike. Despite living alone since the death of his brother in 2012, Simba has remained a gentle giant known for his calm demeanor and regal presence.

Simba, the oldest of the lion pride, relaxes at the zoo. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Rounding out the lion pride are Aslan and Savannah, an inseparable brother-sister duo who were born on June 6, 2014. Their lives were once a whirlwind of three different zoos across the country’s northern border. But in April 2020, when their final Canadian zoo stomping grounds closed its doors, the beautiful siblings needed a new home once more.

  Aslan and Savannah faced a daunting cross-border odyssey with no permanent home in sight. Enter Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, ready to extend a paw of welcome. But bringing these majestic felines south wasn’t a simple stroll across the border. The COVID-19 pandemic and the complexities of international travel threw up formidable hurdles.

  Undeterred, Popcorn Park teamed up with two vital allies: Granby Zoo in Canada, who provided temporary housing for the siblings, and Tigers in America, who assisted with transportation and long-term care at Granby. After two years of meticulous planning and preparation, the day finally arrived. On June 26, 2022, Aslan, Savannah, and two other big cats embarked on their long-awaited journey to Popcorn Park.

  The transition to their new home was seamless. Aslan and Savannah embraced their spacious habitat like seasoned explorers, their playful nudges and joyful roars echoing through the sanctuary. Today, they can be seen basking in the New Jersey sun, their amber eyes sparkling with newfound contentment.

Simba, the oldest of the lion pride, enjoys some special pets from John Bergmann, the Director of Popcorn Park. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Although Asian and Savannah have plenty of room to roam outside, they also seem to enjoy refuge inside their private enclosure. Bergmann interacted with the siblings as he stepped in to see the two, seen nuzzling together as connected siblings.

  “She’s one of the biggest females I’ve seen,” Bergmann shared. “They’re both very happy here.”

  As these lions each contribute their unique stories to the sanctuary, Popcorn Park Animal Refuge stands as a haven for these majestic beings, offering a second chance at a life filled with companionship, care, and a wild kind of love. The adventures continue to unfold, promising more tales of resilience, camaraderie, and the indomitable spirit of these magnificent creatures.

  Each lion’s arrival at Popcorn Park is a roar-ing success story, a testament to the Refuge’s unwavering dedication to providing a safe and loving home for animals in need. Popcorn Park has invited lion-hearted admirers to sponsor Kanu for a year, becoming part of his extended family and ensuring he receives the best care possible. 

  Those who commit to sponsoring the newest addition will receive a limited edition Kanu T-Shirt, unlimited visits for the year, and regular updates and photos capturing his first year at his new home. For more information, visit ahs.givecloud.co/sponsorship/150.

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at stephanienjreporter@gmail.com.