Auckland Zoo euthanizes pair of closely-bonded elderly male lions

The Auckland Zoo described the decision as an “extremely tough,” but the “kindest call.”

The facility’s elderly lions, Zulu and Malik, half-brothers, who have lived their entire 17 years together, were euthanized this week due to degenerative health issues.

“As professionals who care deeply for our animal patients, being able to make the call to euthanize at the right time is very important, as it enables us to prevent any untreatable pain and ensure animals like Zulu and Malik can pass away peacefully and with dignity,” Dr. James Chatterton, the zoo’s Head of Veterinary Services, said in a statement Monday.

They were born two weeks apart at the Auckland Zoo in 2004 and spent most of lives together at the Wellington Zoo before being returned to Auckland in 2018.

The average life expectancy for zoo lions is around 17 years. In the wild, they can live anywhere from 13 to 16 years.

Zulu started showing stiffness and reduced mobility in his hind legs last November. Zookeepers began treating him with anti-inflammatories and pain medication. A full vet check show degenerative diseases of the bones and joints, which the zoo said can be common in senior, big cats.

While an arthritis or spinal disease wasn’t confirmed definitively, tests and the cat’s behaviour pointed that way and the condition was only getting worse.

More recently, Malik began showing signs of the same condition and he was started on medications.

And that’s when really hard decisions were being considered for the pair.

“While at an earlier stage of this degenerative disease – that will only worsen, [Malik] having spent his entire life with half-brother Zulu, with whom he’s so closely bonded, being left on his own would be unacceptably stressful and compromise his welfare,” Dr. Chatterton said.

While Zulu’s fate seemed clear, other options for Malik were being considered.

“He also couldn’t be sent to another zoo,” Dr. Chatterton explained. “As well as the risks and stress of moving an elderly animal like Zulu, due to the complex social dynamics of lions, attempting to integrate him with any other lions would also be extremely dangerous, and likely fatal.”

And so, both big cats were humanely euthanized.

This morning we made the extremely tough but kindest call to euthanise our elderly male lions Zulu and Malik – a…

Posted by Auckland Zoo on Monday, April 12, 2021

Officials at the zoo are devastated.

“Male lions like Zulu and Malik have such a strong majestic presence, you can’t help but fall in love with them, and be inspired to care,” the zoo’s carnivore team leader Lauren Booth said.

“My team and I loved these beautiful boys’ natures and watching the bond they shared with each other, as we know so many of our visitors did too, and we will miss them greatly,” she added.

Recently, the Wellington Zoo made a similar call for their elderly lionesses Djane and Zahra.

The Auckland facility is now without lions, but made add ones in the future as part of breeding program for the species.

For now, they are remembering the impact Zulu and Malik had.

“Over their 17 years, many millions of people got to experience and connect with them, and in doing so contribute to our zoos’ local and international efforts for wildlife and wild places,” Booth added.

Zulu and Malik were closely bonded half brothers. Photo: Auckland Zoo/Facebook

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