PHOENIX — Cookie, a 22-year-old female African lion at the Phoenix Zoo, was humanely euthanized on Tuesday after debilitating changes in her vertebrae and spinal cord, the Phoenix Zoo announced Wednesday.
In a blog post, the zoo said the lion had "severe, chronic, progressive, irreversible, degenerative changes in her vertebrae and spinal cord leading to significant hind limb muscle loss and weakness that greatly affected her mobility and quality of life."
We are deeply saddened to share the news that our 22-year-old female lion, Cookie was humanely euthanized yesterday. She lived a good, long life here at the Phoenix Zoo and will be greatly missed.— Phoenix Zoo (@phoenixzoo) March 10, 2021
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Her care team had been carefully monitoring her to keep her comfortable over the last few months, the zoo said.
"Cookie was a strong lioness who demanded respect," said Heather Vetter, one of Cookie's caretakers, in a written tribute posted to the Phoenix Zoo's website.
"Very discerning when it came to the company she would keep, you could count on one paw the number of keepers she immediately took a shine to. Others had to spend years offering gifts and kind words to win her over. And yet others could never do anything right in her eyes, and she would deal with you if and when she saw fit! Unless you had a chicken, of course," she wrote.
Vetter wrote that Cookie enjoyed catnip, sunbathing, playing with papier-mache balls, and stalking "the occasional duck that had the misfortune of landing in her pond," as well as Kitamba, the zoo's male African lion who died in 2018.
Cookie and her brother, Shiek, had a rough start in life, born at an unknown private facility where they were "confined to a child’s playpen or being touted around fairs and shows so that a premium could be collected as they posed for photos with paying customers," she said.
Eventually, they were rescued and transferred to the Pittsburgh Zoo and then moved to the Phoenix Zoo in 2005, she said.
Shiek died from pneumonia in 2011, said Linda Hardwick, spokesperson for the Phoenix Zoo.
After Kitamba's death in 2018, the Phoenix Zoo welcomed Booboo, a 3 1/2-year-old male African lion from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, in 2019.
"Cookie lived a long, full life of 22 years, an advanced age that many lions never attain. She will be missed dearly, her proud roar absent from the landscape. But that magnificent roar will echo in our hearts forever," Vetter said.
The zoo said the average lifespan of an African lion is 16.9 years.
Editor's note (2:26 p.m.): Updated to include more information on Shiek and his death.