National Zoo Lion Cub Dies in “Fluke” Incident

Piece of straw blamed in death

The death of the National Zoo's new lion cub is being called "a one-in-a-million fluke" by zoo officials.

The cub, which was born Tuesday morning, died Thursday night. The cause of death was pneumonia, according to the zoo, and was caused by a tiny piece of straw getting into the cub's lungs.

"Losing this lion cub is devastating for all of us at the National Zoo," said Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo. "I believe this was a one-in-a-million fluke. Unfortunately, this is the downside to the 'cycle of life'."

Keepers had been observing the male cub and his mom, Nababiep, since his birth, but noticed that the cub wasn't responding to its mother. They took the mom outdoors to examine the cub -- and learned the sad news.

A necropsy showed that a straw awn (the pointed tip on a blade of straw) got into the cub's lungs, causing the pneumonia. The zoo said the use of straw bedding is common, and only organic material is used in the lions' den.

This was Nababiep's first birth. Zoo officials hope to reunite her and her sister, Shera, with male lion Luke soon in order to try again.

"The animal care team and Zoo staff are consummate professionals, and I know they’ve learned a tremendous amount from creating the pride, breeding the lions and getting Nababiep through her first birth. We mourn this loss yet keep our focus on the best care for the lion pride," Kelly said.

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