BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Akili, a lioness at the Birmingham Zoo, died Monday afternoon after being injured by another lion. She was 17.

According to zoo officials, Akili was fatally injured by another lion during an introductory meeting. The meeting was to help the zoo identify a new male companion for the lioness.

“Animal introductions are always risky because wild animals can be unpredictable and we cannot control their interactions,” Deputy Director Hollie Colahan said.

Colahan said the process takes months to introduce two new animals. She said Akili and Josh would swap enclosures and were side-by-side-divided by a mesh panel many times until they opened the doors Monday – getting an unexpected outcome.

Akili was injured in the first few minutes of the meeting, according to the zoo. The attacking lion, Josh, had been brought to Birmingham in April to replace Kwanza, an African male lion who had been living at the zoo before passing away in 2021.

“The loss of an animal is always sad but when it is sudden and unexpected, that makes it particularly difficult,” Birmingham Zoo President and CEO Chris Pfefferkorn said. 

Akili is older for a lioness so she was done having cubs – this was just for companionship. Josh is six years old but Colahan said he was fully grown and mature.

“If we thought this was going to happen we wouldn’t have opened the door, but everything they were doing was telling us it was the time to do it so we were really shocked,” Colahan said.

Akili came to Birmingham in 2007 and lived with Kwanza until his death. The two had five cubs together in 2011.

This incident has been very tough for staff, who tried to immediately intervene when it happened. Zoo officials said Josh will continue to reside in his Birmingham habitat for now, but they plan to discuss what will happen with him next.

The Birmingham Zoo is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.