It was a sad evening at the National Zoo last night, as the new African lion cub—the first at the zoo in 20 years—died just days after it was born.
The cub (who keepers discovered was a male) had been monitored by zoo staff via a camera since it's birth early Tuesday morning. Last night, they noticed the cub was not interacting with its mother, six-year-old Nababiep, so they moved the mother out of the den to figure out why. Veterinarians discovered the cub was dead.
Scientists later found that a straw awn (the pointed tip on the end of a straw blade) was embedded in the cub's lungs, which caused pneumonia, and subsequently, the cub's death. Zoos typically use straw for big cats' bedding, zoo officials said.
Nababiep has reunited with her sister Shera, and the pair will soon rejoin Luke, the male of the pride and the cub's father.
"Nababiep was showing signs of being a great first time mother," said Lindsay Renick Mayer, a spokesperson for the zoo. "Tuesday was a pretty exciting day for us, so the news is pretty devastating."
Mayer said she believes Nababiep will be a mother again when the time is right—but her sister, Shera, and Luke were "breeding" this past week, Mayer said.
"We still think lion cubs are in our future," she said.