Luke, an African lion at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., died on Oct. 19, the zoo announced on Friday, Oct. 21.
Luke the lion was 17—the median age for African lions being raised in captivity.
Luke was “humanely euthanized” by the zoo’s staff after he quickly lost 17.6 lbs. and was found to have a number of cystic masses on his liver and a spinal condition he was being treated for was discovered to have moderately-to-severely progressed, according to the zoo.
“Luke was truly the ‘king’ of the Great Cats exhibit. He was gentle with his mates, Naba and Shera, and an extremely patient and protective father to all 13 of the cubs he sired,” Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats, Kids’ Farm, Claws & Paws Pathway and Andean bears, said in a press release.
Born in a private South African reserve in 2005, Luke was brought to the National Zoo in October 2006 for a breeding program, where he has been beloved by visitors and staff ever since. His behavior interacting with his mates and his cubs was studied by the Great Cats team for research purposes, offering “valuable insight into lion breeding and cub rearing behaviors.”
“Luke has left a lasting legacy, not only in the cubs he contributed to his species’ survival,” Saffoe said, “but also in the millions of visitors who were able to gain a deeper knowledge of and appreciation for African lions because of who he was as the patriarch of his pride.”
The lion exhibit remains open.