For years, Philadelphia Zoo visitors were treated to the roar of Merlin, the African lion who declared each morning and afternoon that he was the boss.
He had fathered 11 cubs and, at 21, had enjoyed a long life for a lion in captivity.
Last weekend, zoo officials said Thursday, his health declined rapidly, and he was euthanized Sunday.
"On Friday, he didn't eat his dinner, and that was very unlike him," said Tammy Schmidt, the curator of carnivores and ungulates.
He refused to eat again Saturday, even when offered a treat of liver and a shank bone, Schmidt said. He appeared to be uncomfortable and was given medication.
On Sunday he was anaesthetised and examined by the zoo's three veterinarians, Schmidt said. They discovered that his lungs had filled with fluid.
The zoo, taking his advanced age into consideration, decided to euthanize the lion. A necropsy confirmed his condition, a zoo spokeswoman said.
"It was a kind exit for a regal animal," Schmidt said.
Merlin was born in July 1991 at the Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa. He was brought to Philadelphia two years later along with three female lions: Vinkel, Jezebel, and Zenda.
The females, all 21 years old, will remain together as a lioness pride.
The zoo has two young lions, a male and female, who arrived more than a year ago, but they will be kept apart from the older lions, who are "retired from reproduction," Schmidt said.
Makini, the 3-year-old male, whether sensing that Merlin was gone or by coincidence, "had his first full-belly roar" this week, Schmidt said.
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