Big cats cry all night for grand old lion

The big cats at the Greater Vancouver Zoo cried all night after Nagy, the grand daddy of the African lions, succumbed to illness Wednesday.

Whether his twin daughters, Mali and Kali, were missing him or were aware that he was gone and were saying goodbye will never be known. In any case, “there was a lot of vocalization all night from his daughters and the other cats close by — the cougars, tigers and jaguars,” said zoo spokesperson Jody Henderson.

Nagy, the 18-year-old male lion, was euthanized after veterinarian Bruce Burton found a large and inoperable mass in his chest that was putting pressure on his lungs and trachea.

“The difficult decision to have him humanely and peacefully put to rest was made (Jan. 19) at approximately 2 p.m., after thoughtful consideration. Results from a post mortem of Nagy will be announced when they are completed,” said Dr. Burton in a prepared statement.

The keepers had noticed that Nagy was having difficulty breathing on Saturday, Jan. 15, along with loss of appetite and lethargy, and Dr. Burton was called immediately for an examination.

Exploratory checks of Nagy seemed to show nothing of concern, but “he was not himself all weekend,” said Henderson.

“One of his daughters would not leave his side, so maybe she knew he was dying.”

Nagy was taken to Dr. Burton’s clinic for an X-ray, which revealed the large mass that was putting stress on the big cat.

Mama, Nagy’s mate and the mother of the seven-year-old Mali and Kali, succumbed to cancer last March.

Nagy was born in 1992 and came to the zoo in 1999 from the Okanagan Game Farm. He had two mates, Mama and Auntie, over his 18 years and was the father of three litters with a total of nine offspring. Auntie and the other lions had been moved to other zoos over recent years, as the Greater Vancouver Zoo sought to keep the pride’s numbers here to four or five.

African Lions are listed as “vulnerable” conservation status on the International Union of Conservation of Nature Red List. In the wild, lions are typically hunted for their coats and teeth. The primary risk to the species, however, is habitat loss, which is constantly being threatened by human activity, such as agriculture and human settlement.

Lions are the only truly social cat species with every female in a pride closely related.