All pet owners know that eventually young pets grow old. When you work at a zoo or visit a zoo often, you realize that the same holds true for zoo animals. Knowing the truth doesn’t necessarily make it easier as keepers and guests realize that a beloved animal’s time is near.
Two of the most popular exhibits at the Topeka and Zoo and Conservation Center are homes to two of the Zoo’s oldest animals. Cora, an Asian elephant cow, is 61 years old. Avus, a male African lion, is almost 15. Age is relevant to individual species.
During a routine medical exam in February of 2018, a mass in Cora’s reproductive tract was identified. The mass was determined to be non-operable at the time due to Cora’s status as a geriatric elephant and the complexities with both a surgical procedure and recovery. As the mass was putting pressure on Cora’s rectum, her care team began supporting her gastro-intestinal tract to alleviate potential discomfort the mass was causing.
A few days ago, Cora’s keepers noted that she was more lethargic than normal. That her appetite was tapering off and she was experiencing more and more discomfort. Blood results from a sample taken yesterday show that her condition is worsening. One blood index has more than doubled in the last six months and is five times as high as it should be. “The bloodwork tells us that there is tissue destruction going on in her body, possibly cardiac failure,” said Zoo Director Brendan Wiley.
A few weeks ago, Avus the lion was noted to be “wobbly” on his feet. For the past few years, Avus has received treatment for arthritis. The unsteady cat had Zoo staff wondering if the arthritis had progressed or was there potentially a new neurological issue he was dealing with. A CT scan last week revealed that Avus is now dealing with degenerative disc disease at multiple points along the spine from his neck to his lower back. “For both Avus and Cora our efforts right now focus on making sure they are comfortable,” said Wiley. “They are both loved members of our family here.”
Both Avus and Cora have storied pasts. Cora came to the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center from a private owner in Florida who could no longer care for her. She had spent most of her life travelling up and down the east coast participating in education programs. Under the stage name Charlotte, she co-starred alongside Bert Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit 2 as the secret cargo being transported across the country. Cora retired to the Topeka Zoo in 2016. Avus is always described as one of the most “chill” lions you will ever meet. He will do just about anything for meat flavored baby food. If you live within a mile of the Zoo, he has serenaded you throughout the night.