ASHEBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina Zoo’s oldest male lion has died. Reilly, a 23-year-old African lion battled renal disease for several years.

In addition to being the oldest male lion at the NC Zoo, Reilly was also the oldest male lion in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institution.

“He was so tolerant of his rambunctious offspring and was fiercely devoted to his lady lion, Mekita,” said Zookeeper Beth Malott, who worked with Reilly for eight years. “Reilly was a one-of-a-kind soul, and his morning roars will be greatly missed.”

Reilly is shown sitting with lady lion, Mekita
Courtesy: North Carolina Zoo

The lion’s renal disease paired with his advanced age and weakened physical state, lead the animal care team and veterinarians to make the decision to euthanize him.

“Renal disease is not uncommon for a cat of Reilly’s advanced age, be it a domestic cat sitting on your chair at home or a lion at the Zoo,” says Director of Animal Health and Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Jb Minter. “We had been extremely fortunate to be able to monitor the advancement of Reilly’s renal disease over the years using operant conditioning to get blood from his tail, but unfortunately, the progression of the renal disease along with his previously diagnosed spinal disease proved to be too much. I will surely miss hearing his roar from across the park.” 

Reilly was born at Lincoln Park Zoo on February 7, 1999, and came to the NC Zoo in March 2001. He fathered a total of nine offspring. 

Reilly’s partner, Mekita is now the only lion at the zoo. The zoo said the addition of any future pride members will be based on recommendations from the AZA.

A lion’s average lifespan in the wild is about 10 to 15 years. Male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years. The zoo says males weigh up to 570 pounds. At the time of his passing, Reilly weighed 394 pounds.

The NC Zoo says they actively support conservation efforts of lions across Africa, including implementing SMART-based monitoring systems that assist with anti-poaching efforts to help protect lions in areas critical for their survival. Lions have have suffered due to poaching, unintentional snaring and retaliation for livestock predation.