Lion Kills Lioness In Dallas Zoo: Frustration Of Captivity May Have Led To Gruesome Attack

By Gabrielle Jonas on November 19, 2013 4:15 PM EST

Lion
Male lions use dense vegetation for ambush-style hunting. (Photo: Reuters)

The lion who bit a lioness to death at the Dallas Zoo Sunday may have done so in response to the stress of captivity, an animal advocate specializing in big cats said. Carole Baskin, chief executive of Big Cat Rescue was in Washington, D.C. Monday to push for the passage of the Big Cats and Public Safety Act (HR1998, S1381), that would ban the private possession, breeding, and public contact with big cats.

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"American Zoo Association accredited zoos, like the Dallas Zoo, would be exempt from the ban on possession and breeding big cats, so it would not have prevented this tragedy," Baskin told the International Science Times, "but the sudden killing of one big cat by another happens all the time in non-accredited, roadside menageries and private owner's backyards. It just rarely makes the news." This one did, though, after a male lion delivered a crushing bite to the neck of lioness at the Dallas Zoo, as families and other stunned visitors looked on, Reuters reported.

When lions are put together with unfamiliar animals in close quarters, tensions can ensue, Baskin said. Indeed, according to the Dallas Zoo, though the lion lived with his two brothers, and Johari lived with her two sisters, lion and lioness were not related. "Lions live in prides in Africa that are comprised of family, where they have hundreds of miles to roam and sometimes they kill each other for mates, food or territory," Baskin said. "In captivity, lions are confined to small cages and often paired with others who are not family. Those stresses can lead to fatalities. At the night houses in just about any zoo, where the big cats are kept during most of their waking hours," Baskin added, "you will see the lives of deprivation they live and understand how fights could lead to deaths in such dismal conditions."

The lioness, named Johari, died almost instantly, according to officials at the Dallas Zoo. "There's nothing to benefit from our responding to Ms. Baskin, who isn't familiar with the circumstances of this tragic incident, our lions, or our zoo,"  Laurie Holloway, the Dallas Zoo's communications director told International Science Times, maintaining that the pride received sufficient stimulation. "Our husbandry includes extensive enrichment for all of our animals, as at most top-tier accredited zoos. We are doing extensive fact-finding to help us understand what may have caused this sudden attack, and speculation isn't helpful to that end," she  said.

Zookeepers had not identified which of the lions had attacked the lioness. "The males are being kept together, but separate from the females while we continue to explore potential reasons for this unforeseeable, and tragic, attack," Ms. Holloway said, adding, "These lions have lived together for years and have been a very successful pride. There are absolutely no abnormal behaviors or stereotypies [excessive repetition of movements symptomatic of insufficient stimulation] present. They are lions, and lions by nature scuffle and will engage in rough play for many reasons, both in the wild and in accredited zoos."

Indeed, the lion who attacked the lioness did it so casually, reported Reuters, that many onlookers didn't realize at first Johari was being attacked. He unobtrusively used his jaws to grab her by the throat, then backed away from her apparently lifeless body. "Everyone thought they were playing at first, but then they could see that she was struggling," Jim Harvey, who witnessed the killing, told station WFAA-TV, Channel 8, Dallas, which carried video of the event. After the attack, zoo staff scrambled to remove the remaining four lions in the exhibit from public view, Reuters said.

"The male lions have been separated from the females for now while we observe them and continue our fact-finding about this sudden attack," Ms. Holloway said. "IOur animal experts are poring over every bit of data and are in discussion with fellow lion experts, but we probably never will know exactly why this lion reacted this way." t's simply too soon to say what we'll do in the future with the pride, although it absolutely will not involve euthanasia."

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