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Adelor, lion who was king of Lincoln Park Zoo, euthanized

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Updated: March 3, 2012 11:34AM

Adelor, the Lincoln Park Zoo’s iconic male lion known for his lusty roar and luxurious mane, was euthanized Wednesday because of declining health in his old age.

The 18-year-old lion often greeted visitors atop large boulders in his yard, surveying the comings and goings of female companions and zoo visitors.

“He would let out this very loud roar and kids would come running as soon as they would hear this,” said Mark Kamhout, zoological manager of carnivores.

Adelor arrived at the zoo in 1995 from a South African game reserve. The sire of five lion cubs, he exceeded a lion’s median life expectancy of 14 years, zoo staff said. Recently, though, staff were closely monitoring his declining health.

“We have very careful quality of life parameters particularly with animals that are getting older,” he said. “It got to the point where we could figure out it was time for him. It’s never easy but it was definitely the right timing.”

Adelor was one of two lions involved in a 2004 attack on Nancy DeFiesta, a keeper at the zoo. DeFiesta told the Sun-Times after the attack that when she met Adelor and female Helene in the lion moat, Helene bit her shoulder and Adelor “looked me in the face and he looked at my right breast. I remember thinking, he’s going to take it off. He didn’t, but he bit me and I have a really big wound under [the breast],” she said.

He did take her head into his mouth, she told the paper in 2005.

“He was going to take my ear off,” she said. “He almost did.”

DeFiesta remained motionless in the fetal position, and zoo staff used fire extinguishers to clear the lions out of the area. As she recovered, zoo staff gave her a painting of Adelor and Helene, which she displayed in her living room.

“They don’t do things for the heck of it,” she said at the time. “They did what came natural to them. They’re lions, for goodness sakes.”

Adelor’s cubs have been sent to homes around the country, including zoos in the state of Washington, North and South Carolina, Colorado and Kansas.

Adelor’s body may be used to further scientific research about lions, Kamhout said. First, zoo pathologists will perform a necropsy to try to determine the exact cause of death.

Left behind is the zoo’s sole African lion, Myra, 15.

“Myra probably knew in her own way he was slowing down,” Kamhout said. Zoo staff are now working with other zoos and aquariums to possibly find a male or female “buddy” lion for her, he said.

Zoo staff are also in mourning.

“Some keepers worked with him his entire life, trained him every day,” he said. “It’s going to touch a lot of us but he had a great life here at Lincoln Park Zoo and he was a great ambassador for his species.”

News of the death of this 18-year-old lion king prompted dozens of zoo visitors to post online tributes on Facebook and at a memorial page set up by zoo staff at

“We will miss you so much, Great King,” one person wrote in a comment typical of many of the tributes. “We hope you are frolicking with your ancestors now.”

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