One of the famous Yorkshire Wildlife Park lions rescued from a rundown zoo in Romania has died.
Cezar, one of the park’s big cats, had been in declining health for several months with increasing joint and mobility problems related to age and potentially to his hard life in Romania before he was rescued.
The decision was taken earlier this week by a team of vets in conjunction with the park’s directors, animal staff and the park’s ethics committee to put Cezar to sleep on welfare grounds.
It was the plight of 15-year-old Cezar in particular and his family who were living in appalling conditions in the rundown Oradea Zoo that was highlighted in 2009 and sparked the Doncaster zoo’s campaign to rescue the animals and bring them to the UK to start life in fresh surroundings.
His story moved thousands of people to donate over £150,000 to bring Cezar and 12 other lions back to the purpose-built Lion Country at Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Branton as part of a mammoth operation in which the animals were sedated and brought over by plane.
The 13 lions arrived at the park in 2010 and were slowly rehabilitated into their new home under much veterinary care and careful husbandry by park staff.
The lions steadily regained their health and strength and enjoyed life at the award-winning visitor attraction, with brave volunteers allowed to spend the night living up close and personal to the animals in their enclosure in a series of fundraising events for Comic Relief as well as welcoming scores of visitors.
A spokesman said: “Cezar enjoyed life with his mate Allis and his sons Ares and Adel, until recently when his health started to affect his quality of life.
“The lions regained their health and strength and enjoyed life in Lion Country – and hundreds of thousands of people have been to see them.”
There are now 11 lions in Lion Country at the park - Johnny Junior and his pride Carla, Julie, Crystal and Frieda, Allis and her two sons Ares and Adel and Maria and her sons Dani and Simba.”
The park last year lost its oldest resident Johnny Senior who died aged 30.
The spokesman added: “The directors of Yorkshire Wildlife Park would like to thank the veterinary teams from Portland House Veterinary Group from Retford and the International Zoo Veterinary Group who have worked and supported staff to help improve the health of Cezar and the other lions since their arrival and particularly over the past few difficult days.
“The park would also like to thank the dedicated staff who have loved and cared for Cezar since his arrival and who today grieve his loss.”