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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo says goodbye to beloved African lion

Zwena, known affectionately as “Z” by her longtime keepers, was a staff and guest favorite at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZ) is mourning the loss of Zwena, a 13-year-old African lioness.

Zwena's care team made the difficult decision to euthanize her due to progressive neurological issues and her declining health and quality of life Monday afternoon.

Zwena, known affectionately as “Z” by her longtime keepers, was a staff favorite throughout Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The zoo said Zwena was well-loved and respected for her no-nonsense approach to building relationships with people.

“She was always the biggest personality out of the girls,” said Diana Miller, African Rift Valley keeper and Zwena’s primary trainer for nearly 9 years. “She was very loud. When she would see us coming she would either make a happy grumble or snarl at you. She was so sassy and fierce – and she loved to participate in her voluntary training. She was always enthusiastic with training and demonstrating her awesome lion behaviors during keeper talks. She would jump up on the cape buffalo statue with such vigor and a loud groan. She was impressive. She made a real impact with our guests.”

Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

In July, Zwena struggled with chronic mobility issues associated with her neurological condition, but had mostly good days until October when her condition declined quickly, according to CMZ.

The zoo said the median life expectancy for African lions is 16.9 years, but as with humans and other species, life span can be less, due to various medical challenges, such as the ones Zwena experienced.

Zwena, who was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, lived with Abuto, the pride patriarch; Lomela, her sister; and Elsa, her niece.

Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Zoo officials said Zwena was an amazing ambassador for her species, helping guests fall in love with African lions through her energetic personality and intense focus.

“She made me the keeper I am today,” said Miller. “You make connections with all of the animals you care for, but some animals leave a bigger paw print on your heart. Zwena definitely did that for me. I am so lucky to have gotten to know her and work with her. We will all miss her so much, but we’re grateful for the time we had together.”

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