Denver Zoo mourns death of ‘Tawny,’ prepares for more loss

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DENVER — The Denver Zoo announced the loss of one of its most regal creatures Friday. And in the same statement, zoo officials seemed to be preparing themselves for more of the same.

The primary purpose of Wednesday’s press release was to announce the death of “Tawny,” a female South African lion. The 15-year-old had been at the zoo since the opening of its Predator Ridge exhibit in 2004, and was hailed by zoo guests as “Mother of the Year” in 2005.

Officials also revealed that the average life span of lions in zoos is 16.8 years, and that the Denver Zoo currently has five other adult lions that are all 15.

In the case of Tawny, the zoo said the Predator Ridge mainstay was put down due to liver complications that were making it difficult for her to digest food.

It began when zookeepers and veterinary staff members noticed some lameness in Tawny’s front right leg. Last week, the lion began refusing food. After putting her under anesthesia, medical personal found undigested food in her stomach and multiple fluid-filled cysts on her liver that were pressing on her digestive system.

“Tawny was not going to be able to recover from these serious issues, and the most humane option was euthanasia,” staff veterinarian Betsy Stringer said. “This is never an easy decision, but it was the right one.”

Born in September 1997, Tawny came to the Denver Zoo from Ohio’s Columbus Zoo in May 2004. In September of that year, she gave birth to cubs, females Saba and Sukari, and male Kamau.

Officials said zoo patrons likely voted Tawny “Mother of the Year” after learning that she often sacrificed her favorite treat — bones — so that her cubs could have them.

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