CLEVELAND (AP) - Rosey died as the lion's teeth clamped onto her neck, suffocating the 18-year-old lioness at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Such an attack is a way lions in the wild kill their prey.
It's also the same kind of bite that killed three other zoo lions, in Boston, Memphis, Tenn., and Norfolk, Va., in the last 17 months.
Rosey had been separated from Chloe and Moufasa, 5-year-old brother and sister, since they had clashed when the younger lions came to the zoo in 1998. A door separating the lions was accidentally left unsecured on May 5.
The official cause of Rosey's death was released recently by the zoo's veterinary staff. Small puncture wounds were found on her neck, back, forelegs and thighs.
In the wild, lions are extremely social animals, creating tight-knit groups, called prides, headed by a dominant male who must defend his leadership against challenges by other males, said Sue Pfaff, assistant mammal curator at the Riverbanks Zoological Park and Botanical Gardens in Columbia, S.C.
Pfaff said the strong bond between brother and sister may have resulted in Rosey's death as an outsider, hence potential threat, to the minipride of Chloe and Moufasa.
At the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., which houses the largest collection of big cats in North America, director Lee Simmons said: "The bottom line is that lions and tigers and jaguars, these big cats are very territorial and . . . for one lion to kill another in the wild, or one pride to gang up on a smaller pride or a lone individual is not at all unusual. It's the norm."
Simmons said his zoo, with usually 40-70 big cats on hand, has not had a lion kill, but a tiger was killed by another tiger.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which licenses zoos, to investigate the Cleveland incident.
Renewed lion breeding during the last eight years has increased the risk of animal attacks, according to Tarren Wagener, head of the lion species survival plan for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, an accrediting organization for North American zoos.
There's always a risk of an attack and death, she said.