Female Lion at Oklahoma Zoo Suddenly Grew a Luscious Mane and Scientists Are Confused

Bridget, an 18-year-old African lioness at the Oklahoma City Zoo, has suddenly and inexplicably grown a mane, a trait typically associated with male lions. Veterinarians still aren’t sure what's caused the lioness’s new hairstyle, but aren't too worried. She seems to be sporting her mane with all the grace of a true queen of the jungle. 

Bridget the lioness grew her mane between March and November of 2017, and has become internationally known for her unique feature, an Oklahoma City Zoo statement on the lioness noted.

OKC Zoo Lion Bridget Comparison Photo Credit Amanda Sorenson The lioness began to grow a mane in old age. Photo Courtesy of Oklahoma City Zoo

Her veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, told Newsweek that it’s still not clear why the lioness grew a mane, a physical trait usually confined to male lions. But she does have a few guesses.

Manes are controlled by testosterone levels in the lions, similar to beards in humans. Male lions begin to grow manes at about a year old, when their testosterone levels increase. Regardless of an animal’s gender, elevated testosterone levels will result in a mane.

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A testosterone increase is exactly what D'Agostino thinks triggered Bridget's new 'do. “We suspect that she is exhibiting an elevated level of testosterone coming from somewhere in her body,” D’Agostino told Newsweek. Manes in females are uncommon but not completely unheard of, but exactly why Bridget is exhibiting these elevated testosterone levels remains unclear. D'Agostino says a benign tumor somewhere in her adrenal gland or her ovaries likely led to the spike in testosterone.

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D’Agostino told Newsweek that, because of Bridget’s age, they do not want to put her under anesthesia in order to investigate the mane’s cause. The average age of an African lion is about 16.9 years, so at 18 Bridget is considered elderly. Instead, the team have trained the big cat to present her tail to a veterinarian so that they can obtain a blood sample this way. The trick has worked, although so far the zoo hasn’t collected quite enough blood yet to confirm what the problem is.

OKC Zoo Lion Bridget Blood Draw Bridget has learned to present her tail to her trainers so that they can draw her blood. Photo Courtesy of the Oklahoma City Zoo

D’Agostino is not too worried about any health risks Bridget may be facing. She says the lioness appears to be in peak health, especially considering her geriatric age.

“I don’t think that we’re going to be in a life threatening situation,” said D’Agostino. “I think that most likely she’s just going to have this slightly weird appearance.”