Dallas Zoo has launched an investigation into why a male lion attacked and killed a lioness in front of hundreds of visitors.
Despite living peacefully together for years, witnesses say the male lion suddenly turned on the lioness, calmly forcing his jaws around her throat and dragging her to the ground.
Speaking to WFAA news channel, witness Jim Harvey said: “Everyone thought they were playing at first but then they could see that she was struggling.”
An autopsy on the lioness showed she had died from severe neck wounds and haemorrhaging. The lion exhibit was immediately closed following the incident, and the male removed from the enclosure.
The three lions that remained in the enclosure appeared totally unaffected by the incident, and Dallas Zoo says it would “absolutely not” be euthanising the male as the chances of an incident like this happening again are considered “very remote”.
In a statement, the zoo’s vice-president of animal operations and welfare, Lynn Kramer, said: “Johari was a remarkable animal, as are all of our lions… [she was] sweet and loving with her sisters, and often could be found grooming them”.
Mr Kramer went on to say: “This is a very rare and unfortunate occurrence. In my 35 years as a veterinarian in zoos, I've never seen this happen”. He added that, although male lions do sometimes kill other males and sometimes cubs in the wild, attacking a female is extremely rare.
The zoo plans to keep its two male lions apart - and separate from the two surviving females -until they work out what happened.