Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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White lion dies in surgery at zoo

Big cat on loan from Siegfried & Roy had spinal issues


The Toledo Zoo's white lions are on loan from magicians Siegfried & Roy. Wisdom was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 and brought to the Toledo Zoo in 2003.

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The Toledo Zoo’s remaining two white lions will likely miss their brother, who died Thursday after surgery.

“They will probably be looking for him,” said Jeff Sailer, the zoo’s executive director. “There could be a change in their behavior. Once they realize he’s gone, they could vocalize.”

One of three white lions on loan from magicians Siegfried & Roy, Wisdom was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 and was brought to the Toledo Zoo in 2003. He lived in the zoo's Tembo Trail exhibit with his brothers, Courage and Legend.

The public expressed its sadness on Friday about the lion’s death, with more than 170 postings on the zoo’s Facebook page in just the first hour after the news was announced.

“He will definitely be missed by both the public and the staff,” said Dr. Randi Meyerson, the zoo’s assistant director of animal programs. “He was my personal favorite.”

His caretakers have grown especially close to him over the past several months as they tried to lessen the pain of a chronic back condition. The veterinary team has successfully managed his illness for years with therapeutic steroidal treatments, she said. But recently, his symptoms began to worsen.

The ailing lion was taken off of exhibit in May and the other two lions have been rotated on exhibit. If Wisdom had been able to return to the exhibit after recovery from his surgery, they didn’t want the other two lions to not accept him back into the group, which could have happened after an extended absence.

Wisdom had been treated with steroids, pain medication, and a joint-strengthening drug similar to glucosamine.

The zoo arranged to have a mobile computerized tomography unit, or CAT scan unit, brought to the zoo to provide more a detailed diagnosis of Wisdom’s condition; that scan indicated intervertebral disc disease. Two discs in Wisdom’s spine were compressing his spinal cord, Dr. Meyerson said.

“Without corrective surgery, the condition would have eventually paralyzed him,” she said.

Three board-certified veterinary neurological specialists worked with the zoo’s veterinary team to perform the corrective surgery. Although the surgical procedure was successful, Wisdom did not awaken afterward from the anesthesia. He went into cardiac arrest and the veterinarians were unable to revive him.

“During the surgery all of his vitals were really good,” Dr. Meyerson said. “It’s just one of those things that sometime happens with older animals.”

Wisdom and his brothers turned 12 in April. The median age of a lion is 16 years old, Mr. Sailer said.

“The other two lions are doing well and we hope to have them with us for many more years,” Mr. Sailer said.

Wisdom’s remains will be cremated and the ashes returned to Las Vegas magicians Siegfried & Roy.

The zoo is not planning a memorial but fans of the lion can post messages on the zoo’s Facebook page at

Contact Tanya Irwin at:, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter at @TanyaIrwin 

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