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Zoo mourns the loss of Adia, our fierce mama and amazing lioness

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

We have some very sad news to share. Our amazing South African lioness, Adia, passed away yesterday, May 21, at 9 years old from complications during surgery. The median life expectancy for lions in zoos is 16.9 years.

Adia and her cubs in 2013.Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Adia came to the zoo as a one-year-old in 2010 and became the foundation of our breeding program. Her first litter astounded us because as she not only gave birth to 4 cubs but also proved to be a fantastic first time mom. She went on to produce one other litter a few years later, this one with her current mate Xerxes. She will always be remembered as a diligent mother and the queen of her pride. Ask Xerxes, who would always follow her lead.

Adia had been anesthetized for a recheck exam at the zoo’s veterinary hospital due to slow healing after recent abdominal surgery. “During yesterday’s procedure, we took radiographs of Adia and discovered complications that required emergency surgery. We were able to surgically resolve these problems but, unfortunately, she went into cardiac arrest just prior to anesthetic recovery. Despite exhaustive efforts to save her, we were unsuccessful,” said Dr. Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo.

Beautiful Adia on the African savanna. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Following the procedure three weeks ago, Adia had been recovering off public view in the indoor dens in order to reduce her activity and allow her surgery site to heal. Storms explained she was prescribed antibiotics as a precautionary measure for potential infection as well as analgesics, and had remained under close observation indoors.

As a standard procedure, the zoo’s animal health team performed a necropsy (an animal autopsy). Preliminary findings did not reveal a cause of death. The zoo will be notified in several weeks of a final cause of death and related findings pending complete results of pathology and other diagnostic testing, which is routine for all animal deaths at the zoo.

Adia, Xerxes and one of their cubs on the savanna. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
“This is a very sad time for our zoo family. Adia had given birth to two litters of seven amazing cubs with two different companions,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “The keepers who provided excellent day-to-day care fondly remember Adia as being energetic, playful and always excited to see her keepers every morning. Breakfast was her favorite time of the day. She was queen of the felines building at the zoo.”

Adia leaves behind her mate of five years, 11-year-old Xerxes, also a South African lion and the father of her second litter of cubs. He is the only lion currently remaining at the zoo and can be seen in the African Savanna.

Adia and Xerxes on the savanna in 2019. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Adia arrived at Woodland Park Zoo in 2010 under a breeding recommendation by the African Lion Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of lions. “Species Survival Plans are a complex system that matches animals in North American zoos based on genetic diversity and demographic stability. Pairings also take into consideration the behavior and personality of the animals,” explains Ramirez.

Woodland Park Zoo participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, these plans also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

In 2015, two African lion subspecies were listed under the Endangered Species Act due to a dramatic 40% decline in the wild population over the last 20 years. As few as 32,000 African lions are estimated to remain in the wild and their future remains uncertain, particularly as the growth in human population continues to impact lion populations through loss of habitat. There also is retaliatory killing of lions because they pose a threat to humans and livestock.

Woodland Park Zoo partners with and supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which is protecting as much as 10% of the remaining population of wild lions in their landscape.

We thank her keepers and the animal health team for the care she received not just over the last three weeks but also during her entire time her. They are all mourning her passing today. As for Xerxes, we will be watching him closely and even giving him lots of special attention over the next few days. 

Adia with one of her cubs. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
If you'd like to leave us a message or a comment about your favorite memory of Adia, please visit us on our social channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our team is always grateful to hear from those who love our animals as much as we do.


Marci Thompson said…
I'm so sorry for your loss.
Leslie said…
I have not visited your zoo, but have become very fond of it through my friend Judith. I am very sorry for your loss of Adia.
Dina said…
It has been a joy to watch Adia and her cubs over the years. I am so sorry to hear she is gone - she will be missed.

zenseas said…
So sad to hear about her death. She will be missed. I know you all did your best to save her. Thank you for your efforts. RIP Adia. ❤️
Unknown said…
Adia has touched my heart all the way over here on the east coast in NC. A friend often posted pics of her and drew me into your zoo family vicariously. Condolences to the staff and keepers, I am sure they are heart sick. RIP Adia- thank you for your efforts.
Anonymous said…
I am hoping to visit your zoo in a few weeks on a trip down from Canada, and am so sorry to learn of Adia's passing. My condolences to her keepers and other members of the zoo family.

Unknown said…
Does Xerxes get to see her dead. Or smell death. Or will be just be lost without knowing she died. You can't very well, just tell him. Doesn't seem nice for him.
I'm sorry for her death. Or do "people" figure animals don't know diddle and move on?
It's so sad all the way around.