Emery the Lion Succumbs to Illness

The Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the loss of Emery, the African lion. In April, the Zoo reported that Emery, who would have been four years old at the end of October, was diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition where electrical activity in the brain becomes abnormal and causes seizures. 

Much like in humans, symptoms of epilepsy in lions can vary greatly and can be unpredictable. In Emery’s case, he developed epilepsy at a young age and numerous medical treatments and medications temporarily helped manage his condition until very recently, when he stopped responding to medical management and his quality of life declined. His Keepers, the Zoo’s Veterinarian and the entire Animal Care Team have been monitoring the progression of his illness and even with habitat modifications and extensive medical treatments, his quality of life significantly deteriorated in the recent weeks and the difficult decision was made to humanely euthanize him.

“We are devasted about the loss of Emery, especially at his young age,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “All living things- plants, animals and humans, encounter disease and illness that impact their lives. Our role in caring for animals is not only the long-term survival of their species, but to provide the best quality of life for each individual while they are in our care through every stage of their life,” added Bockheim.

Epilepsy in lions is uncommon. There is no known cure for epilepsy, and while humans can live a long life with the disease, it can be unpredictable when caring for animals. Emery was born at the Virginia Zoo on October 28, 2017, to mom and dad, Zola and Mramba. The average lifespan for a lion in the wild is 10-14 years and in human care about 16 years. Zola passed away in 2020 at nearly 16-years-old. Mramba just celebrated his 18th. His Keepers and the Zoo’s Veterinarian are currently treating Mramba for arthritis and chronic kidney disease, which are currently being medically managed.

The Virginia Zoo is in coordination with the African Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) which manages the lion population in North America and who will be assigning the Zoo new animals in the coming year. The SSP maintains the genetic pool of lions in human care for the long-term survival of its species.

Emery was named after a dedicated Zoo Volunteer through a naming contest that raised support for the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance. Emery will be greatly missed by the entire Animal Care Team, Zoo staff, volunteers and members and visitors. He was a great ambassador to the community in managing an incurable disease and to the world about his species in the wild.