The Franklin Park Zoo was noticeably quieter Thursday afternoon after its most famous and loudest resident, Christopher the lion, gave his final roar.
“He was everything you thought of a lion being,” said John Linehan, president and chief executive of Zoo New England. “Several times a day he would get up on his big rock and roar, and people would come running from all over the zoo. I always joked it was his way of announcing his presence to all the lions in Dorchester.”
Christopher, the zoo’s only African lion and one of the oldest in North America, was born in Florida and brought to Franklin Park Zoo in 2001 by Linehan. Zoo veterinarians humanely euthanized Christopher on Thursday because of his various age-related health issues, the zoo said.
At 21 years old, Christopher lived well past the typical life expectancy for lions, which is about 17 years. But about two years ago, Linehan said that Christopher’s advanced age began to show.
“He wasn’t always very responsive in the latter days, and his appetite wasn’t as strong in recent weeks,” Linehan said.
In order to determine what was ailing him, zoo veterinarians put Christopher under anesthesia in January and ran a number of medical tests including blood work, X-rays, and ultrasounds. The examinations revealed several “age-related issues,” including declining kidney function, chronic cystic disease of the liver, and arthritis, Linehan said.
Several days after the examination, the zoo announced it would no longer have Christopher on exhibit.
“Given Christopher’s advanced years, it [was not] unexpected for him, or other cats his age, domestic or exotic, to be experiencing these degenerative issues,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, the zoo’s Director of Veterinary Services. “With our older animals, we do everything we can to ensure they enjoy a comfortable life as they continue to age.”
For Christopher, that included feeding him special treats that were not typically part of his regular high-protein diet, including salmon and organ meats.
“The staff took some liberties with him and just let him live it up,” Linehan said. “One of the things he really loved were these big dolls made of sheared wool, and he loved rubbing it and using it as a pillow. He was kept so comfortable, right up until the final minutes.”
In addition to his expressive eyes and large mane, Christopher was known around the zoo for his impressive roar, which Linehan said could be heard throughout the zoo and as far as the neighboring golf course.
Christopher was known to climb atop his exhibit’s rock pedestal several times a day for “roaring sessions,” which typically lasted only 10 to 15 seconds and would send zoogoers flocking to his exhibit.
“I could hear it in my office,” Linehan said, chuckling. “He had such a regal presence and always reminded us he was the king of the beasts. He wasn’t anyone to be fooled with.”