CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO MOURNS DEATH OF FEMALE AFRICAN LION

- Important species survival work will continue, despite loss -


October 17 2013, Colorado Springs, CO – One of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s female African lions, Jamila, died on Thursday morning after an altercation with the Zoo’s male lion, Abuto. Jamila was six years old.

At approximately 10:25 a.m., Jamila was in the main yard of the lion exhibit with two-year-old Abuto and Jamila’s mother, Angie. A physical fight broke out between the two younger lions. Animal keepers immediately responded to the exhibit and attempted to intervene using spray from a fire extinguisher and noise distractions. They were able to call Angie away from the scene and secure her in the lion holding building, however Jamila and Abuto’s fight had already resulted in fatal injuries for Jamila. Abuto was coaxed into a separate area of the building shortly afterward.

Abuto arrived at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this past January as part of a cooperative breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). These programs are known within the organization as Species Survival Plans, or SSPs, and are an important part of preserving species of animals that are endangered in the wild. Abuto was specifically chosen to breed with Jamila’s two sisters, Lomela and Zwena, because of their genetic compatibility. This potential breeding at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is considered very important to the SSP.

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 Lion SSP 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. Animal staff kept a close watch on intermittent vocalization, growling and negative physical contact between the females and the male 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.”

“I was surprised and saddened to learn about the death of Jamila today,” said Hollie Colahan, coordinator of the AZA Lion SSP. “I have been in contact with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff since shortly after Abuto arrived earlier this year and the introduction was progressing, so this turn of events is surprising. Lion introductions can be violent but rarely turn deadly. Unlike other big cats, lions are social, so introducing a new male to a pride is similar to what occurs in wild lion prides. An event like this is always difficult and my thoughts are with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff today.”

Abuto also sustained injuries during the fight and will be monitored by the Zoo’s veterinary staff in the coming days. The Zoo will also be working with Colahan to reevaluate the introduction process and how to move forward in the future.

To allow staff to grieve the loss of Jamila, we will not be offering interviews at this time.

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