PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Neka, the oldest of the Oregon Zoo’s lions, passed away Friday night following a seizure.
She was beloved by keepers and visitors alike, and lived a long life of 16 years, which is considered geriatric for her species, zoo officials say.
In the wild, female lions rarely live beyond the age of 16, though they have been known to live longer in human care.
“This is a heartbreaking day, especially for her care staff,” said Kelly Gomez, who oversees the zoo’s Africa area. “Some of our keepers had known Neka for 14 years, since she first arrived at the zoo. When you care for an animal every day like that, for years, you form incredibly close bonds. She was a beloved and beautiful lion, and it will not be the same without her.”
Neka was born at the Virginia Zoo in 2007 and came to the Oregon Zoo in 2009. In 2013, she gave birth to three cubs and, according to keepers, was an exceptional parent, “grooming, nursing and wrangling her cubs from the moment they were born.”
“Neka touched the hearts of millions of people during her life, and we hope her legacy will be one of inspiration and hope for her species,” Gomez said. “As recently as 25 years ago, lions were common throughout much of East Africa, but populations have been dwindling, and fewer than 25,000 wild lions are now thought to remain.”
Neka will live on in the form of her cubs, who are now grown and living at other accredited zoos as part of the Species Survival Plan for African lions, aimed at promoting a genetically diverse and sustainable lion population in zoos and other facilities across the country.