A King is dead at Zoo Knoxville

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Jimmy, a 15-year-old African lion who spent his entire life in East Tennessee, was euthanized by his handlers Friday. Photo submitted by Zoo Knoxville.

Jimmy, an African lion who spent his entire life in the hills of East Tennessee, died Friday at Zoo Knoxville.

Jimmy, who was 15 years old, was euthanized due to age-related health problems, according to Zoo Knoxville officials. 

“Jimmy was a noble ambassador that helped tell the story of one of the world’s most iconic animals,” said Phil Colclough, the zoo’s director of Animal Care, Conservation and Education.

“Most of us will never have the opportunity to travel to Africa, but Jimmy gave us the opportunity to appreciate the regal presence and beauty of lions,” Colclough continued. “He helped inspire people to care about the plight of lions and that will be his legacy here. We feel very fortunate to have had the privilege to care for him all these years.”

Jimmy was born at the zoo in 2006 and lived with his long-time companion, Zarina, in the section called “Valley of the Kings.” 

“Jimmy was being treated for spinal issues often seen in lions of advanced age, but last week began struggling with mobility in his hind legs. When it became clear that his condition was not improving with medications and his quality of life was deteriorating, the decision was made to humanely euthanize him,” a Zoo spokesperson said.

“His companion, Zarina, will be given extra attention by her caretakers to help her cope with the loss of Jimmy, and in time they hope to introduce her to the zoo’s other male lion, Upepo, and female, Amara, to be part of that pride,” the spokesperson said.

In Africa, the population of lions like Jimmy and Zarina has dwindled to less than 25,000. The decline of the species is attributed to the depletion of their natural prey animals as well as the illegal trade of lion body parts for traditional medicine.

Zoo Knoxville is part of a network of similar facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure a healthy genetic population for the future of the species.

Jimmy (left, foreground) and his partner, Zarina, in their enclosure. Photo submitted by Zoo Knoxville.

Published on October 26, 2021.