Honolulu zoo's old lion roars no more
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
A mighty roar was silenced yesterday at the Honolulu Zoo.
Apollo, the African lion that had thrilled children and adults alike for 20 years, was euthanized after his failing health took a turn for the worse.
Visitors will miss the lion's majestic demeanor and beauty, said zoo director Ken Redman, but the zookeeper who greeted the king of the jungle every morning may feel the greatest loss.
"When Apollo was up and posing and surveying his country like the Lion King would, that's a chicken-skin moment, and I think regular visitors will miss that," Redman said.
"But (today) is going to be really tough for the (zookeeper) because he comes in the mornings and the first thing he would do is go see Apollo and get a greeting back and forth. That's a ritual they've been through 10-11 years."
Apollo suffered from kidney failure, arthritis and extreme weakness from muscle atrophy. When his condition worsened, "it was a fairly obvious decision because he was suffering pretty badly and deteriorating beyond recovery," Redman said.
Apollo's death leaves the zoo with two lions: twin sisters Ethel Louise and Samantha. They were born in April 1986, making them 21 years old.
Redman said the zoo will search for a young male lion to transfer to Honolulu.
Born in October 1985 at an animal facility in Quebec, Apollo arrived at the Honolulu Zoo on April 17, 1986.
A LONG LIFE
The lion was nearly 22 years old at the time of his death. Lions live about 15 years in the wild. However, they can live well into their 20s in captivity because of the availability of medical treatment and a healthy diet.
Children who were at the zoo yesterday and learned about Apollo's death were saddened but understanding, said Susie Gardner, who runs a children's summer program at the zoo that includes a sleepover.
"They understood that he's come to the end of his life and how lucky they were to get to see him, watch him and go behind the scenes to meet him and make a pinata for him," said Gardner, director of the education program for the Honolulu Zoo Society.
"There was a whole range of emotions."
The lion, tiger and rhinoceros are the children's three favorite animals, she said, adding that the cats, especially, hold a fascination for children.
"They look very beautiful and adorable, but they are very dangerous at the same time and the children are very aware of that and they just love them," Gardner said. "Listening to them roar on overnight programs always gave us goose bumps."
The children used to enjoy building a pinata for Apollo and filling it with liver, she said. When the lion was put away safely, they would show him the pinata, which was painted like an animal the lion would hunt, such as a zebra. Then they would hide the pinata in the exhibit and later the lion would stalk and pounce on it to retrieve the liver.
Gardner said she will miss the lion, especially during sleepovers because he would roar, then the two lionesses would join him and sometimes the hyena would join in, too.
"It was very moving to hear that," she said. "It made you feel like you were out in Africa."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.