BY BARBARA J. ISENBERG
The Wichita Eagle
Lena, an 8-month-old lion cub at the Sedgwick County Zoo, died in mid-March of a lung infection, a necropsy showed.
The female cub’s keepers noticed around March 8 that Lena was lethargic and weak and not passing solids as she should, zoo spokeswoman Christan Baumer said.
When Lena and her sister, Fern, were born in July, they added excitement to the zoo’s Pride of the Plains exhibit. They were expected to stay with their parents for at least 2 ½ years before they left to start their own families.
But during abdominal exploratory surgery a few weeks ago, the zoo’s vet discovered Lena had swallowed and could not digest a bungee-type cord attached to other toys, used for enrichment to keep the animals active.
The vet also discovered that Lena had a lung infection caused by a tear in her esophagus. She died March 11.
“We can’t pinpoint what caused the tear in her esophagus,” Baumer said. “We didn’t find anything sharp in her stomach. It’s possible she was born with a weak spot, or it could have been caused from a stick or a bone that she swallowed. Sometimes birds go in the lions’ den and they don’t come out.”
Fern and her parents, Nemesis and Majola, all played with and digested the same cord, Baumer said. They had no problems passing it.
It was unclear how long Lena had been sick.
“Animals will often hide their illnesses as a natural defense mechanism so we monitor their behavior very closely because they’ll hide those things,” Baumer said.
Steve Feldman, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said the zoo-accrediting agency does not require participating zoos to notify it of animal deaths.
Neither does the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates zoos.
Zoos are required to keep records, which are reviewed during periodic inspections.
“Animals are dying and being born all the time,” Feldman said. “There are institutional records kept, and we do review those during inspections.”
Meanwhile, Fern is doing fine, Baumer said. The zoo will continue to breed Nemesis and Majola in the future as part of the Species Survival Plan for lions, which is approved by the zoo association.
“Majola is beneficial to the lion clan, so we’ll probably be approved to breed them together again,” Baumer said.
Reach Barbara Isenberg at 316-268-6574 or firstname.lastname@example.org.