Birmingham Zoo mourns death of lioness Akili after introduction to male lion Josh

Birmingham Zoo
Akili was the original “tongue out” post on Birmingham Zoo’s social media. (Scott Kayser/Bham Now)

Akili (which means bright and intelligent in Swahili), the beloved African lioness at the Birmingham Zoo , has died as a result of an introduction to male lion Josh. 

Born in 2005 at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Akili came to the Birmingham Zoo in 2007 to live with African Lion Kwanza.  

Birmingham Zoo
Akili at the Birmingham Zoo. (Scott Kayser/Birmingham Zoo)

In 2011 the pair had 5 cubs. When Kwanza died in 2021, the Zoo worked with the Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) to identify a new male companion for Akili. Josh arrived in April and the slow, careful process of introductions began.  

Bham Now wrote about Josh’s arrival back in June.

Meet the Birmingham Zoo’s newest addition, Josh the African lion + get exclusive details here

“Always Risky”

“Animal introductions are always risky because wild animals can be unpredictable and we cannot control their interactions,” explains Hollie Colahan, Birmingham Zoo’s Deputy Director and coordinator of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Lion SSP.  “Unfortunately, Akili sustained serious injuries within the first few minutes of the meeting and despite immediate intervention by the Animal Care and Animal Health teams, she succumbed to her injuries and died Monday afternoon.”

What’s Going to Happen with Josh?

Birmingham Zoo
Josh, an African lion at the Birmingham Zoo. (Jacob Blankenship/Bham Now)

In a statement sent to Bham Now by the Birmingham Zoo—they will continue to care for Josh and determine next steps for the lion in the near future.

“For now, Josh will stay here and we are committed to providing him with the same great care as always. We have not started discussing future plans. We want to give the staff time to process and grieve. When the timing is right, we will work with the Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) to determine the next steps. The goal is to get him an appropriate social setting for his well-being.”

It’s important to note the African lion population is extremely vulnerable and currently decreasing all over the world. The Birmingham Zoo—through a partnership with The American Zoological Association—is on the frontline to bring back the African lion. 

From the Zoo’s press release and social media Birmingham Zoo President, and CEO Chris Pfefferkorn added:

“The loss of an animal is always sad but when it is sudden and unexpected, that makes it particularly difficult. Please keep the amazing team and everyone that worked with Akili in your thoughts as there are no words that can ease the pain of such a spontaneous loss. We are thankful that so many in the community had a chance to see and experience Akili, she was a great ambassador for her wild counterparts.”

Birmingham Zoo
Akili at the Birmingham Zoo. (Scott Kayser/Birmingham Zoo)

Presently, there are no plans for a memorial, but once there are arrangements, Bham Now will help spread the word.

Do you have memories of Akili?  Please share them on Bham Now social media @bhamnow 

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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