Lion undergoes examination at Franklin Park Zoo

Lionchristopher2Christopher the lion was put under anesthesia yesterday so the Zoo’s veterinary staff could examine him.

Christopher, age 21, is a geriatric animal who is at a stage in his medical management where in order to provide the best possible care for him, a full physical examination including X-rays and ultrasounds, was needed.

Yesterday’s examination revealed a more complete picture about several age-related issues for Christopher, including declining kidney function, chronic cystic disease of the liver, and arthritis – all relatively common findings for a mature cat. Complete blood work and urinalysis results are not expected for a couple of days, but preliminary results so far do not indicate any other health issues.

“Given Christopher’s advanced years, it is not unexpected for him, or other cats his age, domestic or exotic, to be experiencing these degenerative issues. Yesterday’s exam, which was a well-coordinated effort amongst departments, was necessary for us to get a full picture of his health,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Director of Veterinary Services, who added, “With our older animals, we do everything we can to ensure they enjoy a comfortable life as they continue to age, which is often far longer than the median life expectancy. While Christopher’s issues are nonreversible, we are continuing to treat and to monitor him closely.”

The median life expectancy for lions is 16.8 years. Christopher, who turned 21 on July 22, 2014, is among the oldest lions within the North American population in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“Christopher is a favorite among staff and visitors alike. While we know he will not be with us forever, we are committed to continuing to ensure that he maintains a good quality of life in his golden years,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO. “In cooler weather, his favorite spot within his exhibit is atop his heated rocky perch where guests can often hear his impressive roar.”

Thanks to the regular training program at the Zoo, the zookeepers are able to routinely obtain blood samples from Christopher without requiring the use of anesthesia. In doing so, the veterinary and animal management teams have been able to better keep tabs on Christopher’s health and treat him accordingly. Training through positive reinforcement and operant conditioning allows the animals to voluntarily participate in activities that challenge them to think and learn new things. The animals are trained not only in husbandry behaviors that assist the zookeepers in daily care, but also in medical behaviors to help the hospital staff with veterinary care.

Christopher has lived at Franklin Park Zoo since 2001 after arriving from Lion Country Safari in Florida where he was born.

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