Oldest male lion at AZA-accredited institution passes away

dvm360dvm360 October 2022
Volume 53
Issue 10
Pages: 20

‘One-of-a-kind soul’ Reilly from North Carolina Zoo will be dearly missed by staff and visitors

The beloved male African lion from North Carolina Zoo, Reilly (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo).

The beloved male African lion from North Carolina Zoo, Reilly (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo).

The North Carolina Zoo sadly announced the death of Reilly, a 23-year-old African lion who had been combating renal disease for various years. Due to his weakened state from the disease, the animal care team and veterinarians made the devastating decision to euthanize him.

"He was so tolerant of his rambunctious offspring and was fiercely devoted to his lady lion, Mekita," expressed zookeeper Beth Malott, who worked with Reilly for 8 years, in an organizational release.1 "Reilly was a one-of-a-kind soul, and his morning roars will be greatly missed."

"Renal disease is not uncommon for a cat of Reilly's advanced age, be it a domestic cat sitting on your chair at home or a lion at the Zoo," said director of animal health and chief veterinarian, Jb Minter, MS, DVM, DACZM.

"We had been extremely fortunate to be able to monitor the advancement of Reilly's renal disease over the years using operant conditioning to get blood from his tail, but unfortunately, the progression of the renal disease along with his previously diagnosed spinal disease proved to be too much."

Fun facts about lions

Some fascinating facts about these courageous creatures include1:

  • They are the only big cats that are social
  • They live in "prides" consisting of a dominant male, several females, and their offspring
  • They may sleep up to 20 hours per day
  • They are native to the savannahs and grasslands of Africa
  • They can reach speeds of up to 50 mph for very short bursts

Reilly was born at Lincoln Park Zoo on February 7, 1999 and arrived at the zoo on March 23, 2001. He was the father to 9 offspring, including 3 males and 6 females. Now that he has passed, Mekita is the only remaining lion at North Carolina Zoo. Future pride members and mates will be based on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).1

According to the release, lions live approximately 10-15 years in the wild while male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years.1 Male African lions weigh up to 570 lb and females weigh up to 277 lb. At his prime health, Reilly weighed up to 440 lb and at the time of his death, weighed 394 lb.

African lions are listed as "Vulnerable" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with approximately 23,000 African lions left in wild.2 There populations are continually decreasing as a result of habitat loss and poaching.


  1. North Carolina Zoo announces death of 'fiercely devoted' elderly lion Reilly. News release. North Carolina Zoo. August 3, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.nczoo.org/news/north-carolina-zoo-announces-death-fiercely-devoted-elderly-lion-reilly
  2. The magnificent lion: the symbol of Africa. World Wildlife Fund, Inc. Accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.wwf.org.uk/learn/wildlife/african-lions
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