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Niabi Zoo euthanizes lioness Savanna due to cancer complications

If you've visited the Niabi Zoo, you'd remember Savanna as the 19-year-old African lioness with the long golden mane.

COAL VALLEY, Ill. — If you've visited the Niabi Zoo, you'd remember Savanna as the African lioness with the long sand-colored mane - a trait that made her a rare gem among her species.

Due to breast cancer complications and progressive kidney failure, the zoo was forced to euthanize 19-year-old Savanna on Thursday, Feb. 10. The decision to put down the zoo's last remaining African lion wasn't easy, Zoo Director Lee Jackson said in a news release.

"The zoo’s keeper staff, veterinary team and managers in the end had to consider her welfare and best quality of life," Jackson said. "That she could reach such an advanced age is a testament to the level of care afforded to Savanna and all the animals at the Niabi Zoo and to the tireless dedication of our keeper and veterinary staffs.”

RELATED: Newest addition to Niabi Zoo: Monique the sloth

Savanna, born in May 2002, came to the Coal Valley, Illinois, zoo at just five days old and became a favorite for visitors, who often mistook her as a young male because of her mane.

According to National Geographic, maned lionesses are rare but not unheard of. The feature in females is often an anomaly that occurred due to a genetic mutation during the embryo phase. You could say this unique fur made Savanna one cool cat.

Modern animal care science and veterinary advances have allowed many zoo animals to live longer than others in the wild, Jackson said in the release. 

However, older animals still face the same challenges that older adults do: weakened immune function, digestive problems and dental, eyes and joint issues. As part of daily animal care, the zoo staff monitors daily for subtle signs that indicate a change in wellness, such as mobility, body condition, demeanor, social behavior and appetite.

The Niabi Zoo is currently closed for the winter. It will reopen again in April for the 2022 regular admission season.

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