Reid Park Zoo says goodbye to jaguar Nikita and white-handed gibbon Lily

Reid Park Zoo is saddened to announce the loss of 20-year-old jaguar, Nikita and 18-year-old gibbon, Lily.

After staff said goodbye, Nikita was euthanized Jan. 12 due to age-related health issues. Nikita was one of the oldest jaguars in the United States. Elderly jaguars require a lot of special care. The animal care and veterinary staff had been managing her health closely and determined that humane euthanasia was the best course of action as her health acutely declined.

“The Zoo is committed to providing whole-life care to every one of its animal residents. Our animal care staff spent a lot of time carefully observing the jaguars, feeding them special diets, and caring for age-related issues,” said Dr. Alexis Moreno, Zoo Veterinarian. “Many species tend to live longer in Zoos because of the nutrition, health care and daily attention from animal care professionals provided, so we have a significant population of older animals.”

Nikita had been receiving treatment for age-related issues for more than five years. In addition to being a cancer survivor, Nikita recently received three, very successful and cutting-edge blood transfusions to treat chronic age-related concerns. Within the last couple days, animal care staff noticed that she suddenly had trouble moving around. It was determined her chronic spinal disease had acutely worsened.

“Euthanasia is always a difficult decision to make and we have to make the decision based on declining quality of life, when we can no longer overcome the issues our elderly animas are having,” Moreno said. “We’re proud of everything we’ve done for her to provide the highest quality of life for Nikita.”

Median life expectancy for jaguars is 12 to 15 years. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, jaguars are near threatened in the wild. Populations are rapidly declining in southern regions of the United States, Mexico and South America.
“Our staff is very saddened by this loss. Nikita’s keepers have built a close bond with her over the years and they miss her terribly. We built an exceptional bond with her due to extra care she required,” said Area Supervisor, Adam Ramsey.

White-handed gibbon Lily passed away Jan. 14.

Lily and her parents were transferred to the new gibbon habitat Dec. 22. The relocation went smoothly. Zoo staff carefully monitored their behavior to ensure positive adjustment, looking for signs of optimal welfare such as food in-take, activity level, and normal behaviors such as vocalizations.

“Our staff noticed a decrease in food consumption and lethargic activity in Lily. She was transferred to her original habitat in hopes that returning to her former home would improve her food intake and behavior,” Zoo Administrator Jason Jacobs said. “After several days in her former habitat with little improvement, she was relocated to the Zoo’s current health center for more intensive, hands-on care.”

Zoo keepers, curators and veterinarians worked with her around the clock. In addition, over the past week our staff has been in contact with gibbon experts from around the nation. Despite the best efforts of our staff, Lily passed away in the company of veterinarians and curatorial staff.

This loss leaves Reid Park Zoo with two gibbons, Billy a 43-year-old male and Moms, a 47-year -old female. Billy is currently living in the original gibbon habitat. His health is stable and he is eating well. Moms has been living in the Zoo’s health center where she is under veterinary care. She is eating and drinking well and the long-term goal is to return her to the original gibbon habitat to live with Billy.

White-handed gibbons are endangered due to loss of habitat and illegal pet trade. Populations have declined more than 50 percent over the past 40 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the listing authority for the designation of endangered species.

“Billy and Moms are two of the oldest gibbons in any North American zoological park and their long lifespan is a testament to the care our animals receive at Reid Park Zoo,” Jacobs said.