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'RIP Pretty Girl' -- Why Did A Male Lion Attack And Kill A Lioness At The Dallas Zoo?

Dallas Zoo
Johari was killed on Sunday at the Dallas Zoo after a male lion bit her in a surprise attack.

A young female lion at the Dallas Zoo died Sunday after a male lion attacked her in front of shocked visitors.

A lion bit Johari on her neck at 2:15 p.m. in what zoo officials called a sudden attack. She died quickly. Johari was 5.

Why did it happen?

It’s not clear why a lion turned on one of its own. Zoo officials say they may never know why. One zoo official said he hasn’t seen this type of incident happen in his 35 years in the zoo industry.

“This is a very rare and unfortunate occurrence,” said Lynn Kramer, the zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare.

But the zoo said on its Twitter page that it’s not rare for lions to kill in the wild. “Males kill cubs, females gang up on single males.”

What happened on Sunday?

The lions seemed to be playing at first – but then a male lion, either Denari or Kamaia, turned on the lioness.

The other four lions were removed from their exhibit, which was closed for the rest of the day. Zoo officials say that the two remaining female lions, Lina and Josiri, will be back in their habitat today.

Contrary to some rumors going around, the male lions will not be euthanized, the zoo said on its Facebook page. For now, though, the male and female lions will be separated.

Who was Johari?

Zoo keepers called her Jo-Jo. She was playful and was the first to find surprises in the lion exhibit, such as pumpkins or watermelons.

She often groomed her sisters, Lina and Josiri.

She had just celebrated her fifth birthday with a frozen cake. Nearly 100 guests serenaded her by singing “Happy Birthday.”

“Johari helped usher in a time of exciting changes at the Dallas Zoo,” Kramer said. “She was part of the grand opening of the Giants of the Savanna in 2010, along with her sisters, Josiri and Lina. She was very smart and often was the first to pick up on new training measures that allowed our veterinarian staff to monitor their health.”

Reaction from zoo

The zoo has issued several messages on Twitter since it announced the news of Johari's death:

Fans have been leaving condolences on Facebook:

  • So sad but remember they are wild animals and you can never know what might happen RIP JoJo

  • I am so sad. We just saw them all on Monday. Praying for the zoo staff at this difficult time.

  • So sorry for the loss of Johari. It's so heartbreaking for the staff as I'm sure they have poured their hearts into her and her care. For all of the wonderful things that go along with being a zoo keeper, it's times like these that really shake you to the core. I'll be thinking of you all as you move forward.

  • Kids were upset. They loved when she would come to the glass wall and take pics with them

  • RIP Pretty Girl. And Thank you for working with these beautiful animals! And sorry for your loss

  • My heart goes out to all the zookeepers. Thank you for all the amazing work you do. Our one year old daughter especially loves the lions and is roaring at Johari's picture right now. The zoo brings her constant joy and for that we are so grateful to all of you.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.