One morning in October, employees at the Indianapolis Zoo heard loud, unusual roaring coming from a lion enclosure. When they got there, Zuri, a 12-year-old female African lion, had Nyack, a 10-year-old male, pinned to the ground, her teeth wrapped around his neck.
Before the employees could save him, Nyack died of suffocation.
Zuri and Nyack had been mates for eight years, sharing housing and having three cubs together. According to zoo logs, the lions had never been aggressive with each other.
What made Zuri snap and viciously kill her mate? Lion experts are baffled. In the wild, packs of females may wound a strange male, but they don't kill him. "Extreme aggression of females to males is definitely unique," said Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
Among the possibilities of what set Zuri off could be a sexual encounter gone wrong or Zuri domineering her mate. Another probable reason is that it "might be the result of an animal being in captivity for a long period of time and choosing to behave in an unusual way," said Dr. Paul Funston, Southern Africa regional director for Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization.
Zoos claim to play an important role in conservation and education, but the reality is that keeping animals in captivity is unnatural and cruel. Being forced to live in too-small enclosures can make animals exhibit unusual behavior like pacing, head bobbing, sitting motionless – and, perhaps, murdering their longtime mates.
Please sign and share this petition urging the Indianapolis Zoo to send Zuri and her three cubs to a sanctuary where they can spend the rest of their lives in a stress-free environment.
Photo credit: twak/Flickr