Two elderly lionesses at Wellington Zoo have been euthanised today.
Djane and Zahra, who were litter sisters, had been closely monitored by animal care and veterinary staff over the past 18 months due to age-related health concerns and "showing signs of slowing down for a while".
However, Djane's health recently deteriorated, with her becoming disinterested in food over the past few days, the zoo said in a statement.
"It’s been an incredibly difficult day for everyone at Wellington Zoo, especially the team who cared for Djane and Zahra," the zoo's animal care manager Jo Thomas said.
"Djane had an emergency investigative procedure under general anaesthetic on Monday, where the team conducted numerous tests and gave her support care.
"While the animal care and veterinary teams were hopeful about Djane’s recovery, her health continued to deteriorate quickly and the decision to euthanise Djane was made today."
There are no other lions at the zoo, so on welfare grounds Thomas said the decision was made to also euthanise Zahra.
"Zahra and Djane are litter siblings and share a very strong, sisterly bond. As carers for these animals, their welfare and how they experience life is always at the core of our work at the zoo and these decisions are never easy. However the decision to euthanise both lions was the best thing for them," she said.
"Zahra's welfare would have been severely compromised if she was left to live as a solitary lion."
Moving Zahra to another zoo was not considered due to her age and the social dynamics of lions.
"Zahra would not be accepted into another pride of lions and the stress caused by moving an elderly lion, as well as introducing her to other lions, would be irresponsible and dangerous to Zahra’s health and wellbeing," Thomas said.
Djane and Zahra were born at Auckland Zoo, then moved to Wellington Zoo with their late sister, Djembe, in April 2002.
The pair were about to turn 20 in August, which the zoo said was very old for lions in human care.
"These lions have held a special place in our hearts and we know that our community loves our lions and will be equally sad to lose these beautiful animals," Thomas said.
Wellington Zoo was gifted its first Lion, a male called King Dick, when it first opened in 1906.
While the zoo will be without lions for a while, Thomas said they will look to start a new pride of lions in the future.