North Carolina Zoo announces death of ‘fiercely devoted’ elderly lion Reilly

Reilly had been battling renal disease for several years.
Reilly had been battling renal disease for several years.(North Carolina Zoo)
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 2:39 PM EDT
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ASHEBORO, N.C. (WITN) - The North Carolina Zoo has announced the death of Reilly, a 23-year-old African lion.

The zoo says Reilly, who had been at the zoo since March 23, 2001, had been battling renal disease for several years. He previously was at the Lincoln Park Zoo, where he was born on Feb. 7, 1999. He was the oldest male lion in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institution.

“He was so tolerant of his rambunctious offspring and was fiercely devoted to his lady lion, Mekita,” Zookeeper Beth Malott said.

Malott worked with Reilly for eight years. “Reilly was a one-of-a-kind soul, and his morning roars will be greatly missed.”

WITN is told that with Reilly’s older age and weakened health, combined with the renal disease, the animal care team and veterinarians made the decision to euthanize him.

“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, Animal Health director and chief veterinarian said.

“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. I will surely miss hearing his roar from across the park.”

Dr. Jb Minter, North Carolina Zoo Animal Health director and chief veterinarian

The North Carolina Zoo says that with Reilly’s passing, Mekita is now the only lion at the zoo. Decisions about future pride members, including possible mates for her, will be based on recommendations from the AZA.

WITN is told a lion’s average lifespan in the wild is about 10-15 years, while male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years. The males of this species weigh up to 570 pounds. During peak health, Reilly weighed up to 440 pounds. At the time of his death, he weighed 394 pounds.

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