ASHEBORO, N.C. — Reilly, a 23-year-old African lion at the North Carolina Zoo who had been battling renal disease for several years, has died, it was announced Wednesday.
“He was so tolerant of his rambunctious offspring and was fiercely devoted to his lady lion, Mekita,” said Beth Malott, a zookeeper, in a news release. “Reilly was a one-of-a-kind soul, and his morning roars will be greatly missed.”
Reilly was the oldest male lion in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums institution. He battled renal disease for several years.
Renal disease is not uncommon for a cat of Reilly’s advanced age, be it a domestic cat sitting on your chair at home or a lion at the zoo,” Dr. Jb Minter, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, said in the release. “We had been extremely fortunate to be able to monitor the advancement of Reilly’s renal disease over the years using operant conditioning to get blood from his tail, but unfortunately, the progression of the renal disease along with his previously diagnosed spinal disease proved to be too much.
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“I will surely miss hearing his roar from across the park.”
A lion’s average lifespan in the wild is about 10 to 15 years, while male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years.
“He far exceeded the average lifespan for lions under human care,” Animal Management Supervisor Jodi Wiley said in the release. “This speaks volumes of the amazing care the keepers have given him over the years.”
Reilly was born at Lincoln Park Zoo on Feb. 7, 1999, and came to the North Carolina Zoo in 2001. He fathered nine offspring — three males and six females.
Mekita is now the only lion at the zoo. Decisions about possible mates for her will be based on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo said.
Male African Lions weigh up to 570 pounds while females weigh up to 277 pounds. During peak health, Reilly weighed about 440 pounds, but his weight had dropped to 394 pounds, the zoo said.
African lions are listed as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with populations continuing to decrease due to habitat loss and poaching. An estimated 23,000 to 39,000 lions remain in the wild.
Lions are the only big cats that are social, living in “prides” comprising of a dominant male, several females and their offspring. They may sleep up to 20 hours per day. Lions are native to the savannahs and grasslands of Africa and can reach speeds of up to 50 mph for very short bursts.