Denver Zoo mourns loss of beloved lion

Rajah / Courtesy Denver Zoo
Rajah / Courtesy Denver Zoo

DENVER (Denver Zoo) — Denver Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the death of “Rajah,” a 17-year-old male South African lion.

He was the last surviving member of the first group of lions to move to Benson Predator Ridge upon its opening in 2004. The Zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams had been treating Rajah for a variety of age-related issues for several years. After witnessing a significant decline in his condition over the last few weeks, they made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the elderly lion on the morning of Tuesday, August 25. The median life span of lions in zoos is 16.8 years, while lions in the wild live about 15 years.

Rajah developed a number of age-related health issues over the last few years, most notably bouts of abdominal discomfort from what veterinarians found to be caused by numerous, inoperable cysts. For a long time, Denver Zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams successfully treated the symptoms with medications to alleviate pain, prevent nausea and protect his gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, as he continued to age, these bouts became more frequent, his appetite waned, and he responded less and less to treatment.

Born in March 1998, Rajah came to Denver Zoo from Tennessee’s Knoxville Zoo in November of the same year with his brother, Rian. The two lived together since their birth, serving as constant companions in their bachelor group until Rian’s death in 2013. The two were longtime favorites among Zoo visitors and were known for mutually affectionate behavior. Rajah proved to be surprisingly stoic and resilient at his brother’s passing and ultimately forged a friendship with Baby, an elderly female lion who died earlier this year. Rajah never sired offspring, but his legacy will live on at Denver Zoo through Sango, his 3-year-old great-nephew.

Denver Zoo is currently home to three other lions; Sango and 3-year-old females Sabi and Neliah.

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