2016 claims another: Philadelphia’s Zenda, the oldest African lion in any U.S. zoo

Philly Zoo's Zenda

Philly Zoo's Zenda

In a year during which many beloved celebrities succumbed to tragedy or time, 2016 has seen plenty of famous critters pass on too, from Ohio’s gorilla Harambe to New Jersey’s bipedal bear Pedals to the world’s oldest cat Scooter.

And now Zenda.

A 25-year-old female African lion, Zenda died Thursday at the Philadelphia Zoo, where keepers euthanized her after she suffered a severe decline in her mobility and behavior, the zoo announced today. While most lions in captivity live an average of 17 years, Zenda was the undisputed queen of her kind: She was the oldest African lion at any U.S. zoo by several years.

“This remarkable cat will be missed by staff and guests alike, particularly by the keepers who catered to her changing needs as she grew old,” said Dr. Andy Baker, the zoo’s chief operating officer.

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Born at the Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa in 1991, Zenda arrived in Philadelphia in July 1993, along with female lions Jezebel and Vinkel and male lion Merlin.

Though the pride relocated temporarily to the Columbus Zoo in 2004, they returned for the opening of the Philadelphia Zoo’s new Big Cat Falls exhibit in 2006. That exhibit included a zoo-wide caged trail habitat that proved popular for both Zenda and other members of her pride to explore and zoo visitors to see.

Zelda leaves behind six other African lions who live at Big Cat Falls: Makini, a 7-year-old male, 6-year-old female Tajiri, and their four female cubs, Kataba, Mali, Msinga and Sabi, all born in June 2014.

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