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On October 15, 2018, the Indianapolis Zoo staff witnessed a terrifying scene. When keepers arrived at the zoo in the morning, they were greeted by loud roars coming from the lion enclosure. When they reached it, they found the 10-year old male Nyack being pinned to the ground by the 12-year-old lioness Zuri who already had her teeth in the lion’s neck. Nyack not only shared Zuri’s enclosure but was also the father of her cubs, including the three-year-old cub Sukari who was present during the incident. Despite attempts at separating the animals, the consequences were tragic. According to the zoo officials quoted by the Associated Press, the lioness kept clamping onto the male’s neck until he stopped moving. Nyack was pronounced dead four days later, due to suffocation resulting from neck injuries.

The deadly incident is perplexing, to say the least. The attack took place after eight years of cohabitation and three years of the pair rearing their cubs together, Live Science reports. According to Dr. Paul Funston, Southern Africa Regional Director for the wild cat conservation organization Panthera, the incident was highly unusual, since, even though it is natural for lions to attack and kill in the wild, it is extremely rare that a lone female lion kills a lone male in a one-on-one fight.

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“[L]ions have a very wide behavioral repertoire and occasionally they will do things that surprise us,” Funston told Live Science. “[This incident] might be the result of an animal being in captivity for a long period of time and choosing to behave in an unusual way.”

In their natural habitat, lions attack and kill each other only in the context of territorial or sexual struggle, Funston explained. According to the expert, the possible reason for the attack could lie in the male wanting to mate with the lioness again now that the pair’s cubs were older. He could have approached the lioness in too aggressive a manner, while Zuri could have felt threatened or perhaps was on a contraceptive administered by the zookeepers.

Whatever the exact reason behind the attack, confinement and captivity have been proven to seriously influence wild animals’ behavior and make them exhibit unusual behaviors which are practically non-existent in animals in the wild. The stress connected with living in captivity is also a massive factor which has to be taken under consideration.

The lioness did not attack and kill her mate for no reason, and it has to be recognized that the animals’ environment and living conditions were not without consequence in the situation. Click here to sign a Care2 petition urging the Indianapolis Zoo to send Zuri and her three cubs to a sanctuary where they can spend their lives under specialized care in as stress-free conditions as possible.

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Image source: Poinger_Herzschlog/Pixabay