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Zoo Knoxville saddened to announce the death of Sylvan African lion

KNOXVILLE – Zoo Knoxville is saddened to announce the death of Sylvan African lion, the feisty 23-year-old matriarch of the zoo’s lion pride.

Sylvan had been struggling with declining health over recent weeks attributed to her advanced age. Zoo caretakers and the veterinary team from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine were monitoring her closely. On Thursday, her health began to deteriorate and she did not respond to treatment overnight. The decision was made to humanely euthanize her this morning.

zoo knoxville lion
Zoo Knoxville Sylvan African lion - Image courtesy of Zoo Knoxville

Sylvan was born in 1995 at the Kapama Game Reserve in South Africa. She and male lion Aslan arrived at Zoo Knoxville in March 1997 on the recommendation of the African Lion Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to save lions from extinction. Sylvan gave birth to three litters of cubs over the course of her lifetime and her daughter Elsa still lives in the zoo’s Valley of the Kings habitat. The zoo is also home to male lion Jimmy and females Ann and Zarina.

The average life expectancy of African lions is 10-14 years in the wild and up to 20 years in human care. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, African lions are classified as a vulnerable species. Their populations are threatened by conflict with humans; they are killed to protect livestock, to supply the illegal trade of their body parts to the traditional medicine market in Asia, and for trophy hunting. The depletion of the prey they rely on for food also contributes to their vulnerability.

“Sylvan was a beloved ambassador for her species and we will all miss her,” said Zoo Knoxville Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Education Phil Colclough. “She was fierce, noble and special, everything a lion should be.”

Zoo Knoxville is a nonprofit entity situated on 53 wooded acres just east of downtown Knoxville. Zoo Knoxville features exhibits of wild animals in natural habitats and is world renowned for its efforts in conservation and species survival. Zoo Knoxville is nationally accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is committed to the highest standards in animal care and well-being, ethics, conservation, and education. Knoxville’s largest attraction, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Currently, the zoo is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Admission and ticket sales stop one-hour before the zoo closes. For more information visit

Published August 17, 2018

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