03/01/2013 07:44 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

Denver Zoo Lion 'Tawny' Euthanized During Surgery

One of the Denver Zoo's beloved lions, Tawny, was euthanized on Wednesday due to "several critical health issues" that were discovered during an emergency exploratory surgery.

Tawny was a 15-year-old South African lion who had been with the Denver Zoo since it opened "Predator Ridge" in 2004.

"This is always so difficult," Denver Zoo Curator of Large Mammals Hollie Colahan said in a news release. "She was an excellent mom and guests voted her Mother of the Year in 2005. She was a wonderful animal and we will miss her very much."

In September of 2004, Tawny gave birth to Saba, Sukari and Kamau. Zookeepers told 9News that at the time, she would even give up her favorite bones to her cubs.

Recently however, zookeepers had been noticing lameness in Tawny's front right leg and said that she began refusing food last week.

"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."

The Denver Zoo says the median life span of a zoo lion is 16.8 years, and that they may be bracing for more loss to come. The zoo currently has 5 adult lions who are all age 15.



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