Listen Live

WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Zoo staff are mourning the loss of the 17-year-old lion.

Veterinarians and staff determined that Luke’s long-term quality of life was considered poor following medical exams on Wednesday.

Zoo veterinarians found several cystic masses throughout Luke’s liver during an exam. Also, they discovered that his ongoing spinal disease had fused his cervical vertebrae, according to a release from the zoo.

The Smithsonian’s animal care team chose to humanely euthanize him.

Luke was born in 2005 at a private reserve in South Africa. He first arrived at the National Zoo in the fall of 2006. During Luke’s long life, the zoo said that he sired 13 cubs from four litters.

“Luke was truly the ‘king’ of the Great Cats exhibit,” said Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats, Kids’ Farm, Claws & Paws Pathway and Andean bears in the release. “He was gentle with his mates, Naba and Shera, and an extremely patient and protective father to all 13 of the cubs he sired. Luke has left a lasting legacy, not only in the cubs he contributed to his species’ survival, but also in the millions of visitors who were able to gain a deeper knowledge of and appreciation for African lions because of who he was as the patriarch of his pride.”