Baby lion killed at Zoo Knoxville

This baby African lion was born last month at Zoo Knoxville. She was killed Thursday in an accident, officials said.

A baby African lion who was born recently at Zoo Knoxville has been killed by her mother in what appears to have been an accident while the lioness was recovering from sedation, officials said Friday. 

The cub’s birth last month had been a significant event for the zoo, which takes part in various programs to preserve the genetic diversity of endangered species and protect animals in the wild. 

“This is a devastating and heartbreaking loss,” said Lisa New, the zoo’s president and CEO.

“It was the request of her keepers that she be named ‘Zuri’, which is Swahili for ‘beautiful’, and that is how we will remember her,” New continued. “Life can be fragile and fleeting, and while this is a reality of our profession, it doesn’t make us immune from the pain of losing an  animal. We are grateful for the sympathy and support of our community and colleagues.”

Zoo Knoxville’s current family group of lions — known as a “pride” — is made up of two adults and their three cubs: Upepo, the father; Amara, the mother, two six-month-old cubs, Magi and Anga, plus the new cub, who was born on June 16.

Amara has been suffering from acute kidney disease and has had several medical procedures while under sedation in recent weeks, said Zoo Knoxville spokesperson Tina Rolen.

“She’s had to have pretty frequent medical checks while under sedation, and they had always left the cub with her because they didn’t want the stress of separating them,” Rolen explained. 

“When she came out of the anesthesia yesterday she was wobbly — as we all are when we’re coming out from sedation … I wasn’t there, but something happened and she injured the cub,” she said. “The vets were right there when it happened and they intervened, but her injuries were too severe.”

Amara had always been a dutiful and careful mother with the cub, officials said, and there was no reason to suspect that she might be too rough or aggressive with her child.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Rolen said. “The staff is devastated, as you can imagine, but they’re professionals. They’re soldiering on. But it’s been hard on the whole team because it had been going so well. We thought we were through the woods.”

Amara is being closely monitored for signs of distress or grief in addition to being treated for her ongoing kidney issues, officials said.  As of last report, she had recovered from the anesthesia and was resting comfortably with no noticeable signs of agitation.  If her health remains stable, she will be reunited soon with Upepo.  

To read more about Zoo Knoxville’s African lion program and the birth of the cub, check out our previous coverage at

African cub playing with her mother, Amara, at Zoo Knoxville.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at

Published on July 15, 2022.