“Brookfield Zoo Mourns Loss of Zenda the Lion”

The Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.), which manages the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois, is mourning the loss of Zenda the lion.  If Zenda had not passed away, he would have turned fourteen on July 14, A.D. 2020.  By lions standards, he was geriatric.  The C.Z.S. announced his death on Facebook on Friday, January 3, 2020 and issued a press release that same day.

Animal care staff members noticed late in the Advent period before Christmas that Zenda had difficulty both standing and walking.  About midway through the twelve-day Christmas season, veterinarians treated his symptoms with medication to give him pain relief.  On Thursday, January 2, A.D. 2020 (the tenth day of Christmas) Zenda suffered a dramatic decline and the C.Z.S. made “the difficult decision…to humanely euthanize him,” as the C.Z.S. stated in a press release.  An autopsy of an animal is called a necropsy, and the preliminary results of his necropsy “revealed Zenda had several degenerative discs in his spine that had ruptured as a result of his advanced age and were inoperable.”

Back in September, when I took my nieces to see the temporary LEGO® exhibit Brick Safari before it closed, they were disappointed the lions were not out, and I explained there was a sign that explained the lions were under medical care.  I broke the news to them yesterday that Zenda had died.  The C.Z.S. invited the public to share memories of Zenda on Facebook.

In May of 2008, Zenda arrived at the Brookfield Zoo, so he resided there for over eleven years.  That same year, his mate, Isis, also arrived at Brookfield Zoo.  The lioness will turn fifteen this year. Brookfield Zoo staff will be monitor Isis over the next few weeks to help her adjust to the loss of her mate. 

Figure 1 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This is how Zenda and Isis looked on the morning of May 5, A.D. 2012.

The C.Z.S. stated, “In his later years, he began losing his impressive mane, but his majestic roar could often be heard from across the park.  He was incredibly protective of his mate, Isis… He could often be seen either grooming Isis or sleeping with a paw on her.”

“Over the years,” the C.Z.S. stated, “animal care specialists developed a respectful relationship with Zenda.  He even cooperated in his own health care by participating in voluntary blood draws taken from his tail and presenting a paw for vaccine injections.”

Figure 2 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This is how Zenda looked on October 2, A.D. 2019.

Figure 3 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This is how Zenda looked on November 2, A.D. 2019.

      The English novelist and playwright Anthony Hope (1863-1933) published the swashbuckling adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda in 1894.  The premise is that on the eve of his coronation, King Rudolf V of (the fictional Central European country of) Ruritania disappears because his younger half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, has him drugged and imprisoned in the castle of Zenda.  Two of the king’s attendants decide to keep it a secret and prevail upon a cousin of their rightful king, Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman who is descended from an illegitimate member of the royal family, and happens to look exactly like King Rudolph, to impersonate him and go through with the coronation so they can secretly free Rudolph without notifying the public their monarch had ever been kidnapped.  Before he can help free his royal cousin, Rudolf Rassendyll falls in love with the latter’s fiancée, Princess Flavia, and the feeling is mutual, but once the real King Rudolf is free and able to resume his rightful place, Rudolf Rassendyll and Princess Flavia agree they must part ways so she can marry King Rudolf.  The novel was very popular and spawned a sequel entitled Rupert of Hentzau, published in 1898; three serious film adaptations; one television adaptation; a comedic film adaptation; two Bollywood adaptations with the events transplanted to India; and an opera.  Many people consider The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) the definitive adaptation. It starred English movie star Ronald Coleman (1891-1958) as King Rudolf and his English cousin; English movie star Madeleine Carroll (1906-1987) as Princess Flavia; English athlete and character actor C. Aubrey Smith (1863-1948) as Colonel Zapt; English movie star David Niven (1910-1983) as Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim; Canadian character actor Raymond Massey (1893-1983) as Prince Michael; American actress Mary Astor (1906-1987) as Michael’s mistress Antoinette de Mauban; and American movie star Douglas Fairbanks, Junior (1909-2000) as the charming villain Rupert of Hentzau. There is an entry on Ruritania in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson pointed out that Zenda the lion’s death was the second death of an African lion familiar to Chicagoans in a period of four months because Sahar the lion, who had lived at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Kovler Lion House from 2012 until last spring, died at the Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina, Kansas.  Last year, Sahar and two lionesses transferred from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to the Rolling Hills Zoo while the Lion House undergoes renovations.  A necropsy performed at Kansas State University revealed Sahar had died “from encephalitis (brain inflammation) due to a fungal infection, Rolling Hills announced in mid-October,” Johnson wrote.

Brookfield Zoo volunteer Val Damon turned 100 years old on Saturday, January 4, A.D. 2020.  Every summer, she works as an interpreter in the Butterfly Exhibit.

      The Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.) is a private, non-profit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  Founded in 1920 and chartered in 1921, the C.Z.S. brought to life the vision of Edith Rockefeller McCormick (1872-1932) to give Chicago a zoo without bars modeled on the Tierpark Hagenbeck, known in English as the Hagenbeck Animal Park, a privately-owned zoo in Hamburg founded in 1907 by Carl Hagenback, Junior (1844-1913).  The Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934, during the second year of Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34). 

      The C.Z.S. is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The Brookfield Zoo met the American Humane Association’s rigorous standards for the care and welfare of animals to become the world’s first zoo to receive Humane Certified™ certification.

      The Brookfield Zoo is open every day of the year.  It is located between the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) and Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and is also accessible via the TriState Tollway (I-294).  The North Gate Main Entrance address is 8400 West 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  The South Gate Main Entrance address is 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  A train station, the Hollywood (Zoo Stop) on Metra’s B.N.S.F. line, is a few blocks to the south of the South Gate entrance.  The phone number is (708) 688-8000.  The Website is www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Home.

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