DALLAS — As word spread of what happened Sunday afternoon at the Dallas Zoo, many couldn't decide what was more upsetting — that a lion killed one of its own, or that dozens of families saw it happen.
"At first you think they're playing; then you realize he's killing her... and you’re watching it," said Michael Henshaw. "You just can't believe your eyes."
Henshaw and Jim Harvey were at the zoo's Giants of the Savanna exhibit around 2:15 p.m. when they saw two lions and one lioness, five-year-old Johari. They described an attack that seemed to start innocently.
"The male lion that started it just had his mouth over her throat, and everyone thought they were playing at first," Harvey recalled. "But then they could see she was struggling."
Dylan Parker was also in the horrified crowd.
"[The lion] just lay beside her and held her by the neck for like 10 minutes... just holding it there, waiting until it quit moving," he said.
In a video sent to us by a News 8 viewer that was captured by another witness, the aftermath is disturbingly clear.
Zoo security arrived, pushing visitors away from the exhibit.
Late Sunday night, Dallas Zoo officials still had no idea how this happened.
Lynn Kramer is the vice president of animal operations and welfare at the zoo. He said the three animals involved were born in captivity, and have been together in Dallas every day for the last three years.
"We've had, you know a few incidents of rough play, but nothing out of the ordinary," he said.
Even in the wild, lions in prides rarely — if ever — turn on each other. So why would one go after another in a zoo?
"I've been in the zoo business over 35 years," Kramer said. "I've worked in five major zoos, and I've never seen a cat kill another cat before."
Zoo staff said we may never know why. But the families who witnessed this big cat's violent end will still wonder.
The Dallas Zoo said the male lions were not euthanized or tranquilized after the attack; they were simply moved from the enclosure. Staff say for now, the lions will not be in the exhibit with any other lioness.