October 17, 2013 Updated: October 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm
A lioness at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo died Thursday morning after a brawl with another lion in the main yard of the exhibit.
Six-year-old African lion Jamila died after fighting with a 2-year-old male, Abuto, who arrived at the zoo in January, zoo spokeswoman Erica Meyer said in a release. Animal keepers tried to stop the fight with a fire extinguisher and noise distractions. They got an older lion, Jamila's mother, away from the fight, but couldn't stop it before it turned fatal.
Physical altercations between lions are not uncommon, either in captivity or in the wild, zoo officials said. Officials also said that female lions test younger male lions as they attempt to take over a pride. Animals fighting or killing each other in captivity happens occasionally. Last summer two elephants at the Columbus Zoo fought in front of visitors, but zoo officials described it as natural behavior. In 2011, at San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, a female African elephant died after fighting with another elephant in her herd. And at the LA Zoo last summer, an adult male chimpanzee killed a baby chimp in front of visitors. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo had rotated the lions to limit interactions with each other as Abuto was introduced to the others gradually. He and Jamila had fought in mid-August, but had been getting along since then.
Zoo officials said that, because the two were behaving appropriately during their last interaction, the fight was a surprise. Abuto, who was injured in the fight, was part of a breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He was chosen for the Species Survival Plan program because of his genetic compatability with Jamila's two sisters. Zoo officials said they will reevaluate the lion introduction process. The breeding program will continue.