Zoo Family Mourns Passing of Elderly Male African Lion

(Pittsburgh) (March 2011)—It is with great sadness that the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium announces that Juma, our 21-year-old male African lion, has passed away. Juma, one of the five oldest male lions living in the United States, had been suffering from age-related ailments and in the past year including feline dementia. “He would sometimes forget where he was and look around like he was lost,” says Dr. Stephanie James, Director of Animal Health. “As his senior moments increased, his appetite decreased.” A week before Juma died, he stopped eating. “His keepers tried to encourage him to eat by giving him his favorite food, ground turkey,” says Dr. James. “It got to the point where he was only eating a few ounces as compared to his regular seven pounds. We knew that despite everything we were doing, his quality of life continued to deteriorate.” The veterinary staff and lion keepers made the hard decision to euthanize Juma.

Juma was a long-time resident of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and will be missed. Visitors could always catch him and his constant companion, Shiba, out during the day, lounging on their rock. “Juma would sit very still and watch the visitors stop and take photos,” says Kathy Suthard, lead carnivore keeper. “Sometimes he would roar to let everyone know that this was his territory.” Juma arrived during the late summer of 1990, when he was just 1-year-old. He was confiscated from a private breeder in rural central Ohio after the sheriff’s office received numerous complaints from local farmers about a lion!  “Juma was a nuisance to the neighborhood,” says Ms. Suthard. “He was constantly escaping from his enclosure and eating poultry from nearby farms.” The sheriff wanted to make sure that Juma was sent to a good home rather than being euthanized. “The Ohio zoos weren’t interested in a male lion from the pet trade, so he called us and this has been Juma’s home ever since.”

The year before, the Zoo had welcomed another lion, a young female lion, also confiscated from the pet trade named Shiba. “Since both were young, we wanted to put them together,” says Ms. Suthard. “At first they were wary of each other, but grew together.”

In the wild, the male lions are the leaders of the pride, or family group. Even though Shiba was the stronger personality and, at first, would push Juma around, eventually she became submissive and let Juma be the leader.

They were always together. They would curl up together at night on one of the sleeping platforms. “When Juma’s arthritis prevented him from jumping up to the platform, Shiba would join him on the straw bed we made for him,” says Ms. Suthard. “As you watched them, they reminded you of an old married couple.”

Juma loved scents and his favorites were all spice and peppermint. Keepers would sprinkle the scents on his straw. He would roll around and lay on it for hours.

Shiba is adjusting to the loss of her long time companion. “I think that she sensed that Juma wasn’t feeling well,” says Ms. Suthard. “Days before he died, she spent hours grooming him and would stay very close.  A couple days after his passing, she seemed distracted.  Shiba stayed inside for a couple of days but is now back to her routine.”