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Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 01/15/2010

Lion dies at the National Zoo

By Washington Post editors

Lusaka, the senior female lion at The National Zoo died last night, zoo officials announced today. She was 18.

No cause of death has been determined, but officials said her health had been in decline for several months. In early 2009, she developed a cancerous tumor under the skin on her back. Such tumors occur in lions as well as domestic cats. The tumor was removed by outside specialists and Lusaka had been on medicaion to slow potential regrowth of the tumor.

As part of her treatment, the zoo’s animal care staff trained Lusaka so they could collect blood from her tail while she remained awake.

Lusaka, named for the capital of Zambia, arrived at the National Zoo’s Great Cats exhibit in September 2003 from the Wildlife Waystation, an animal sanctuary in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles. She was rescued from a private breeder.

Veterinarians believe she was born in 1991. Lions in the wild generally live about 15 years, while zoo lions can live 20 years or longer, officials said.

Zoo officials called her an "educational ambassador" for her species.

Officials estimate that between 6,000 and 10,000 lions currently live in Africa. African lions are listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species due to killing by hunters as well as habitat depletion. Some lion populations, however, are thriving in protected reserves. Lions are found from the southern fringe of the Sahara to northern South Africa. A small population of Asiatic lions, which also are endangered, live in the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, India.

Lusaka is survived by the Zoo's three other young lions -- Luke, a male, and Shera and Nababiep, two females.

By Washington Post editors  | January 15, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
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I know that domestic cats would often get tumors under the skin at the spot where vaccines used to be given. However, new guidelines call for vaccinating in the rear leg to prevent this. I even know of vets that vaccinate in the tail. The rationale is that rear legs and tails can be amputated with little reduction in quality of life if a cancer forms - something you can't do with a back. These guidelines have been in place for a long time now. I can't help but wonder if the zoo is up to date on the protocols.

Posted by: carlaclaws | January 15, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Someone needs to look into the way the National Zoo is caring for its big cats, particularly Lions. Their deaths are getting routine around here..

Posted by: wewintheylose | January 15, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Washington Zoo = The Dr. Kervorkian of zoological parks.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | January 15, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

This zoo is an Auschwitz for animals. Contrary to what the item says, lions can live in zoos to the old age of 30, according to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Source:
We need a proper accountability for the carnage of animals at the National Zoo. It is not acceptable to have the deaths of animals that are far from old age.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | January 15, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Drawing blood from a lion while they are awake. Where do I apply for that job?

Posted by: heath717 | January 15, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

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