A lioness has killed the father of her three cubs, suffocating her mate by inflicting injuries to his neck at the Indianapolis Zoo in an attack not fully understood by zoo staff.
The lions had been held together at the zoo for eight years, producing three cubs in 2015, and zookeepers had never before noticed any aggression between the two, the zoo said in a statement issued on Friday.
The death was "extremely devastating" to zookeepers, the curator of the zoo told reporters.
"We know it's a rare occurrence but it can occur in the wild and in human care," David Hagan, curator of the Indianapolis Zoo, told WTVR Channel 6 television. "We're not sure what provoked it."
Zoo staff were alerted by "an unusual amount of roaring" coming from the lion pen on Monday and arrived to find the 12-year-old female lion Zuri in a fight with the 10-year-old male lion Nyack. One of their cubs, a 3-year-old female named Sukari, was in the outdoor lion pen at the time.
"Zoo personnel made every effort to separate the lions, but Zuri held Nyack by the neck until he stopped moving," the statement said.
"We know many people loved visiting Nyack. He was a magnificent male lion and left his legacy in his three cubs," the zoo said.
A necropsy found that Nyack, 10, died of suffocation from injuries to the neck.
The lioness had been on loan from the San Diego Zoo. They were part of the Species Survival Plan managed by Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The incident was under review but there were no plans to change how the lions would be managed, the statement said.
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