The cubs, born Friday, were the first lions birthed at the Leipzig Zoo in 15 years
The Leipzig Zoo in Germany is “shocked and sad” after a lioness killed and ate two cubs she’d given birth to just days before.
The zoo was thrilled when lion Kigali welcomed two cubs last Friday, the first lion cubs the zoo had seen in 15 years, they wrote on Facebook.
Kigali, too, seemed to embrace motherhood, with the zoo writing that she initially cared for her offspring.
But as she groomed her newborns on Monday, Kigali pounced, eating one and then the other in quick succession.
Leipzig Zoo will not be able to complete an autopsy on the cubs, since Kigali ate them in their entirety, so whether or not any illnesses triggered the attack will remain unknown, spokesperson Maria Saegebarth told CNN.
“This is a kind of natural behavior, as it happens in nature, too,” she said.
Kigali, who had been eating normally the day of the attack, will soon be placed back in the main enclosure from the maternal pen, and will be reunited with the cubs’ father, Majo, the zoo said.
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Mothers eating their cubs isn’t unheard of, and can be sparked by a number of reasons, according to Big Cat Rescue, an accredited sanctuary that rescues abused and abandoned big cats.
The sanctuary said that sometimes animals are just not well-suited to being mothers, and in some cases, they eat the cubs because they want to mate with a new male. Other times, in particular with cats in captivity, the animals will attack because of various stressors.
“If the cubs themselves behave strangely, that might be a reason for animals to eat their offspring,” Maren Huck, a lecturer in animal behavioral ecology at the University of Derby, told CNN. “If their infant doesn’t respond as an infant should do, it’s not recognized as an infant and therefore the maternal instinct doesn’t kick in.”
The Leipzig Zoo did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.