A male African lion at a zoo in Alabama mauled a female to death just moments after the two were introduced to each other.
The Birmingham Zoo posted the news to Facebook Tuesday. The lion, named Josh, was brought into the zoo to provide companionship for the lioness, named Akili. Akili’s mate died in 2021. But almost immediately after the two lions were introduced, Josh attacked Akili, and the lioness suffered injuries that proved to be fatal.
“Birmingham Zoo is mourning the passing of beloved African lioness Akili,” the zoo said in a statement posted to Facebook. “The lion was fatally injured on Monday afternoon, July 18th, during introductions to male lion Josh. The staff is devastated at this unexpected loss of a long-time favorite animal and member of the Zoo family.”
According to the statement, Akili was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, in Colorado Springs in 2005. In 2007, she was moved to the Birmingham Zoo to live with a male named Kwanza. The two became companions, and had a litter of five cubs in 2011. Kwanza died in 2021, and the zoo worked in cooperation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Lion Species Survival Plan to identify a new mate for Akili. Josh was identified as a potentially suitable companion, and arrived at the zoo in April. From there, the process of gradual introductions began.
“Animal introductions are always risky because wild animals can be unpredictable and we cannot control their interactions,” Hollie Colahan, the Birmingham Zoo’s Deputy Director and coordinator of the Lion SSP, said in the statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, Akili sustained serious injuries within the first few minutes of the meeting and despite immediate intervention by the Animal Care and Animal Health teams, she succumbed to her injuries and died Monday afternoon.”
“The loss of an animal is always sad but when it is sudden and unexpected, that makes it particularly difficult,” zoo President and CEO Chris Pfefferkorn added. “Please keep the amazing team and everyone that worked with Akili in your thoughts as there are no words that can ease the pain of such a spontaneous loss. We are thankful that so many in the community had a chance to see and experience Akili, she was a great ambassador for her wild counterparts.”
Newsweek notes that African lions are highly territorial and will become aggressive if they feel threatened. Male lions are also aggressive when attempting to assert dominance over others. In the wild, a male lion who takes over a pride will kill the cubs of the ousted male. Sexually frustrated males have also been known to kill females that will not breed with them, Newsweek notes.
In the meantime, Josh will remain at the Birmingham Zoo until keepers determine the appropriate next steps. “Josh will stay at the Birmingham Zoo and we are committed to providing him with the same great care as always,” zoo officials said in a statement to local news outlet WBRC. “When the timing is right, we will work with the Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) to determine next steps. The goal is to get him an appropriate social setting for his well being.”