Female lion who grew a mane aged 18 left scientists baffled

When an 18-year-old lioness began growing a mane, scientists were left utterly puzzled. The lion, known as the king of the jungle, is renowned for its strength and bravery, often distinguished by its varying shades of luscious brown manes that adorn its face, head, neck, and chest. Typically, lionesses, the female counterparts, don't have manes; they are usually a uniform sandy color.
However, there are exceptions to this norm. Zuri, a lioness at Kansas' Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, defied expectations when she developed her mane at the age of 18. Raised in a zoo with two other lions, Zuri's mane growth coincided with the passing of Avus, the sole male in their pride, in 2020. Remarkably, Zuri's mane was atypical, shorter, and less voluminous compared to the mane of male lions.

Although this phenomenon is exceedingly rare, it has been observed in a few instances worldwide, including cases in South Africa in 2011, the Oklahoma City Zoo in 2018, and even in the wild in Botswana in 2016. Despite its infrequency, experts remain uncertain about the cause behind this unusual transformation. Kris Everatt, a wild cat conservation scientist, dismissed the idea of any evolutionary reason, suggesting that it might simply be a random occurrence, unrelated to factors like male absence or competition among females.

One possible explanation for the unusual phenomenon boiled down to Zuri's age. At 18 years old, when the mane started growing, the lioness had surpassed the average lifespan of a wild lion, which is typically 15 or 16 years. It was hypothesized that hormonal shifts due to extreme age might have triggered the hair growth, as tests revealed no underlying health issues in the lioness.
"She looked very peculiar," Simpson remarked at the time.

Regrettably, earlier this year, the Topeka Zoo announced the passing of Zuri. The 'beloved lioness' was 19 years old.

“In recent months, Zuri had been under close observation due to the risk of kidney failure, a common ailment for cats of her age,” stated a zoo spokesperson. “A month ago, Zuri began exhibiting heightened symptoms, which rapidly worsened in the past few days.”

Following a veterinary examination that confirmed her suffering from kidney failure, Zuri was compassionately euthanized.

“Zuri was undeniably a lioness in control, and her resilient and self-sufficient personality was evident to everyone who knew her,” Simpson expressed on Facebook. “Zuri has always held a special place in our hearts, and her absence will be deeply felt.”

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