Lion killed in fight at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Chris Loveless, Digital Content Director , c.loveless@krdo.com
POSTED: 05:33 PM MDT Oct 17, 2013    UPDATED: 06:33 PM MDT Oct 17, 2013 
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo says one of it's African lions died after getting into a fight with another lion.

The fight happened at 10:25 a.m. on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

The zoo says Jamila, 6, was in the main yard of the lion exhibit with her mother, Angie, and another lion, Abuto, age 2.

A fight broke out between Jamila and Abuto. Animal keepers tried to break up the fight using spray from a fire extinguisher and by making loud noises, but it was too late for Jamila.

Abuto arrived at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this past January as part of a cooperative breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The zoo says Abuto was specifically chosen to breed with Jamila’s two sisters, Lomela and Zwena, because of their genetic compatibility

After completing a standard quarantine period, Abuto moved to the newly built Encounter Africa lion building at the end of March. Shortly thereafter, the Zoo’s four lionesses, including mother Angie and sisters Lomela, Zwena and Jamila, also moved to the building from their old location within the Zoo. While the lions became familiar with the building, animal keepers worked closely with the AZA program coordinator to create a plan for introducing Abuto to the four females.

The process of introducing the Zoo’s lions started with a ‘howdy,’ which is typical for captive animal introductions. During this ‘howdy’ period, the lions could see and smell each other through a protective mesh barrier, but they were unable to touch. During this process, animal keepers kept detailed notes about how each lion reacted – paying particular attention to their body language, vocalizations, eye contact and rubbing against the barrier

In May, following positive interactions during the ‘howdy’ process, the Zoo moved forward with one-on-one free contact with the Zoo’s female lions and Abuto. Jamila and Angie had their first free-contact interaction with Abuto in June. Introductions continued and eventually led to the entire pride having free access to one another.

The zoo says animal staff kept a close watch on intermittent vocalization, growling and negative physical contact between the females and Abuto during this process, which was normal and expected behavior during this type of integration. Each of the females exhibited different types of behavior toward Abuto, based on their individual personalities. When all five lions were together, Jamila was often the instigator of fights with Abuto, but would quickly back down.
 
In the wild, African lions often engage in fights. Female lions test male lions as they attempt to take over a pride, especially if the male is smaller or younger than the females. Because of this, great caution was taken by Zoo staff to introduce Abuto in a careful and gradual way to protect him from the aggressions of the established female pride.
 
After two months of all five lions having free contact, some vocalizing and physical altercations continued among the pride. Because of this continued aggression, the Zoo began rotating free contact interactions between Abuto and two other female lions at a time, rather than all four.

Angie, the eldest lion, appeared to be a stabilizing influence, so the Zoo paired her and Abuto with just one of the sisters at a time. This type of rotation is another common tactic in managing animal introductions.
 
“Jamila and Abuto had not had a physical altercation since mid-August,” said Tracy Thessing, Director of Animal Collections for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. “The last two times they were together, they did vocalize with one another but did not have any physical altercations. Because they were last seen behaving appropriately, this incident comes as a surprise to us.”
 
Abuto also sustained injuries during the fight and will be monitored by the Zoo’s veterinary staff in the coming days.

The Zoo says it will also be working with Colahan to reevaluate the introduction process and how to move forward in the future.