With his chocolate-colored mane and paws the size of dinner plates, Tamarr the lion sprawled across the cool cement in the shade, flicking away the occasional fly with the end of his tail.

He appeared to have nary a care in the world, least of all the noses and fingers of the human children and adults pressed against the glass just feet from his head.

He seemed to be enjoying the Akron Zoo's new Pride of Africa exhibit, which has been his home for a few weeks now but opened to the public Saturday.

The exhibit, opened to zoo members Friday, attracted 4,000 people to the park.

"That's a really good day," Director of Marketing Vince Jeffries said.

Several families said Saturday they came especially to see the new exhibit, which features windows on the sides of the cement pad of the lion den, providing an up-close-and-personal view, if a lion will oblige.

While Mandisa, the lioness also on exhibit Saturday, relaxed on top of a rock in the middle of the enclosure, Tamarr was quite willing to display himself near the humans along the windows.

"Don't you just want to pet him?" Anna Mills of Green asked her 1-year-old daughter, Caroline, and 3-year-old son, Tristan. "He looks snuggly."

Tristan, Mills said, was a little leery of the beast, quite aware Tamarr was just feet away, separated only by the glass.

"It's nice that you can get that close encounter," Mills said.

That was the goal of the project, Jeffries said. The zoo's slogan, he noted, is "you've never been this close."

The Pride of Africa is part of a $17 million project — funded by a combination of levy funds and private donations — that will also include a new Wild Asia exhibit, slated to open next year.

As for the animals, the Africa area features a new pride of three lions, one male and two females, that will trade off being on exhibit with Tamarr and Mandisa. Also in the area are Speke's gazelles, white storks, crested guineafowl and goats. An expanded train ride brings riders up to the back of the lion enclosure.

A new misting splash pad was also popular Saturday with temperatures already into the 80s soon after the zoo opened.

Caleb Hunyadi had to pull his daughters, Cassie, 8, and Cora, 3, away from the water to see the animals first.

Cassie was attentive to Tamarr's every feature, from his mane down to his tail.

"He moved!" she said. "Bugs were on that paw."

Susan Wilson of Akron brought her grandsons, Ryan Crawford, 10, and Johnny Crawford, 12, who are visiting from Pennsylvania, to see the new areas of the park.

"I love the whole thing. The flowers — it's just wonderful," Wilson said.

Ryan took a long look at Tamarr.

"He was just lazy the whole time," Ryan said.

That's not unusual, Jeffries noted.

"Tamarr's more of our pampered one," he said. "He doesn't like to get his paws wet. Mandisa, she's up for anything."

 

Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.