Bridget the Bearded Lioness Has Died at the Oklahoma City Zoo

The 18-year-old lioness suddenly began growing a mane last year, baffling her caretakers

Bridget, a lioness at the Oklahoma City Zoo who made headlines around the world after she mysteriously sprouted a "mini-mane" last year, has died at the age of 18.

As the Associated Press reports, Bridget had recently started to show signs of illness: she was lethargic, she wasn’t eating and she appeared to be in pain. In a statement, the Oklahoma City Zoo said that veterinarians decided to perform an emergency examination on the lioness and found excess fluid around her heart—a sign of heart failure or infection. “Given her advanced age and the severity of her condition, the vet and caretaker teams made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Bridget” on Wednesday, April 4, the statement says.

Bridget became something of a viral star when, between March and November of 2017, she suddenly grew a mane. It wasn't a full mane—the increased hair was mainly clustered under Bridget's chin, like a beard—but her caretakers were nevertheless baffled.

Manes are typically reserved for male lions that have reached puberty, but on rare occasions, females have been seen sporting this furry feature. In 2016, for instance, it was reported that five lionesses at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana not only grew manes, but exhibited male-like behaviors like roaring and mounting other females. Experts believe that these lionesses have elevated levels of testosterone, which drives the development of manes in males, according to Karin Bruillard of the Washington Post.

But when vets at the Oklahoma City Zoo analyzed blood drawn from Bridget’s tail (she was trained, with the help of her favorite snack of horsemeat, to allow the procedure to be done without anesthesia) they found that Bridget had the same testosterone levels as her mane-less sister Tia, who also lives at the zoo.

Bridget’s blood work was not entirely normal, however. She had elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, and androstenedione, a “pre-cursor to sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone [that] can contribute to the development certain androgenic (male) traits or features,” according to the zoo’s website. Veterinary experts consequently theorized that Bridget had a benign, hormone-secreting tumor on one of her adrenal glands, which caused her to develop excess facial fuzz, but was otherwise harmless.

"She is in very good health for an 18-year-old girl," Jennifer D'Agostino, the zoo’s director of veterinary medicine, told the CBC’s Carol Off at the time. "[She] doesn't even seem to be bothered she has a little bit of extra hair around her chin and her neck area."

Sadly, Bridget did not remain in good health for very long. Gretchen Cole, an associate veterinarian at the zoo, tells the Post’s Bruillard that heart disease is common in cats as they age. Vets will conduct a necropsy on the lion, but they do not think Bridget’s demise is linked to the hormonal changes that caused her to grow her signature mini-mane.

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