Lion and Ape, Among Oldest of Their Species, Die at Virginia Zoo

A lion and a gibbon thought to be among the oldest of their species have died at a zoo in Virginia.

Virginia Zoo announced the deaths of male lion Mramba and 48-year-old female white-cheeked gibbon Asia in a statement on Wednesday.

"The zoo is deeply saddened to announce the loss of its patriarch African lion, Mramba," the statement said.

Mramba arrived at the zoo in 2004. He was thought to be one of the oldest living lions under human care in the world. Lions typically live between 10 and 14 years in the wild.

"As one of the oldest lions in human care at more than 18 years old, Mramba was a long time beloved member of our Zoo family," executive director at the zoo Greg Bockheim said in a statement. "We find comfort in knowing that he was given the best possible care every day of his life and have been fortunate to share his legacy with our community."

Virginia Zoo said they had put Mramba down humanely amid myriad health problems. The elderly lion suffered from arthritis and chronic kidney disease. His carers decided on euthanasia after he developed end-stage renal failure and medicines failed to keep him comfortable.

After he arrived at the zoo, the lion was paired with lioness Zola as part of the zoo's Species Survival Program. The couple sired seven cubs across three litters. Zola died in 2020 aged 15.

Lions are considered a vulnerable species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are only around 20,000 of the animals left in the wild, and their population numbers decreased by 43 percent between 1993 and 2014.

The zoo said that Asia the 48-year-old white-cheeked gibbon died in January. She was also euthanized due to quality-of-life concerns related to her old age. The zoo said Asia was one of the oldest living animals of her species in North America. White-cheeked gibbons normally live between 25 and 28 years.

Northern white-cheeked gibbons like Asia are considered a critically endangered species according to the IUCN. One study published in the journal Oryx found populations of the animals have declined up to 80 percent since 1990. The animals live in the forests of southeast Asia, in the north of Vietnam and Laos.

In response to the deaths of Mramba and Zola, Virginia Zoo said that three new lions, a male and two females, would be arriving at the zoo in spring from other Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoos.

"Please keep our staff and volunteers in your thoughts during these difficult times," the zoo said in a Facebook post published soon after Mramba's death.

Lion seen resting in a zoo
Lion seen resting in a zoo. The Virginia Zoo said that Mramba was thought to be one of the oldest lions living in human captivity in the world at the time of his death, aged 18. MARVIN RECINOS / Staff/Getty Images