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Denver Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the death of "Tawny," a 15-year-old female South African lion. After conducting emergency exploratory surgery, Denver Zoo vets found several critical health issues from which Tawny would not be able to recover. Veterinary staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her during the procedure on Wednesday, February 27 at Denver Zoo.
"This is always so difficult. We've had Tawny in our family since the opening of Predator Ridge in 2004. She was an excellent mom and guests voted her Mother of the Year in 2005," says Denver Zoo Curator of Large Mammals Hollie Colahan. "She was a wonderful animal and we will miss her very much."
Over the past several weeks, keepers noticed Tawny was having some lameness in her front right leg. Zookeepers and veterinary staff continued to monitor Tawny closely and over the last week saw that she was refusing food. On Wednesday, February 27, veterinary staff anesthetized the lioness for a medical examination. Blood work found that she was anemic and exploratory surgery discovered undigested food in her stomach and multiple fluid-filled cysts on her liver which were pressing on her digestive system, making it extremely difficult for her to digest food.
"Tawny was not going to be able to recover from these serious issues and the most humane option was euthanasia. This is never an easy decision, but it was the right one," says Staff Veterinarian Betsy Stringer.
The median life span of lions in zoos is 16.8 years, while lions in the wild live approximately 15 years. Born in September 1997, Tawny came to Denver Zoo from Ohio's Columbus Zoo in May 2004 to live at the newly opened Predator Ridge exhibit. In September of that year, she gave birth to cubs, females Saba and Sukari, and male Kamau. In 2005, online voters and zoo staff selected Tawny as "Denver Zoo Mother of the Year." Zookeepers said at the time that the first-time mother was very attentive and willing to sacrifice her favorite treat – bones – so her cubs could have them.
Denver Zoo is home to five other adult lions all age 15, females Natal and Baby, and males Krueger, Rajah and Rian. The zoo also welcomed three lion cubs from the Royal Family of Qatar on a temporary basis in late 2012 until permanent homes are determined. The trio is up of males, Tsavo and Enzi, and female, Sabi.