Keepers at the Leipzig Zoo in eastern Germany say Kigali the lioness gave birth to two cubs last Friday, and she initially seemed to be caring for them normally. Then, to their horror, she ate them. Zoo officials say they were shocked by the behavior of the lioness, who had never had cubs before, Deutsche Welle reports. "The inexperienced lioness also took care of her cubs in the evening before suddenly completely eating the two cubs while grooming them," the zoo said in a statement. The cubs may have been ill, but since they were completely consumed, it will be impossible to perform an autopsy. The zoo says Kigali had eaten regularly through the day and appeared calm. The cubs were the first born at the zoo in 15 years.
Wildlife experts say it isn't unheard of for lions in the wild to eat their cubs, especially if they are malnourished, though it seems to happen more often in captivity. University of Derby animal behavior expert Maren Huck says the cubs may have been behaving in a way the mother found strange. "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," Huck tells CNN. "It is more likely in captivity because there are more factors that would contribute. It is well known that if animals in captivity are stressed, they are more likely to eat their cubs." She adds, however, that the unfortunate incident is not a sign that there are animal welfare issues at the zoo. (Read more lion stories.)