A pair of lion brothers at the Dallas Zoo teamed up for a fatal attack on a lioness in their pride, with one of the big cats seizing her by the throat and crushing it as horrified zoo-goers looked on.
Sunday afternoon visitors to the zoo were taking in the big cat exhibit when one of the lions in the exhibit turned on a 5-year-old lioness named Johari. The second lion then joined in the stealthy attack. The lions, Denari and Kamaia, are brothers.
Onlookers were horrified as they slowly realized what was happening. “At first you think they’re playing; then you realize he’s killing her ... and you’re watching it,” zoo visitor Michael Henshaw told a local TV station WFAA. “You just can’t believe your eyes.”
Zoo officials quickly enacted a “Code Red” and cleared the exhibit of visitors, according to local news reports. The two lions have since been separated from the surviving two lionesses in the exhibit. All three lionesses in the exhibit, including the slain cat, were sisters.
Such a seemingly unprovoked attack is said to be a rarity among big cats held in captivity. The incident shocked even zoo veteran Lynn Kramer, one of the top managers at the Dallas facility: “In my 35 years as a veterinarian in zoos, I’ve never seen this happen,” he said in a statement.
Authorities have said the lions will not be euthanized and, for now, will remain separated from the surviving lionesses.
The zoo exhibit was slated to reopen to the public with the lionesses on display, and it was unclear when, if, or under what circumstances the lions would return to the display exhibit. An internal investigation into the incident and policy review are underway, with zoo administrators reaching out to other big-cat experts in a bid to better understand what went wrong.
In the hours since the attack, which took place about 2:15 p.m., words of condolences and criticism have been aimed at the zoo and its popular exhibit.
One recent visitor to the exhibit at the zoo posted a comment on the zoo’s Facebook page suggesting that the cats’ quarters were too tight: “We just had lunch by them yesterday and were thinking how sad it was that they were stuffed in that tiny little enclosure you have for them.”
Others, however, sympathized with the zoo employees and said they would miss Johari. “I am crying over this,” said another commenter. “She was so beautiful and so loved by everybody there... My heart goes out to you guys and especially the lion keepers.”
Zoo employees were said to be in mourning. Johari, shown here in an image released by the zoo, was nicknamed Jo-Jo by the staffers, who recalled her as playful and clever, “always one of the first to find new surprises in the habitat, like pumpkins or watermelons. She was sweet and loving with her sisters, and often could be found grooming them.”