Chadwick, the male African lion that lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo for 17 of his 21 years.
Chadwick, the male African lion that lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo for 17 of his 21 years, was humanely euthanized Thursday after battling a degenerative illness (Santa Barbara Zoo photo)

Chadwick, the male African lion that lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo for 17 of his 21 years, was humanely euthanized Thursday after battling a degenerative illness.

Chadwick exceeded the mean life expectancy for lions (16.9 years) in human care by almost five years. He was the oldest male pedigreed lion alive in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited institution.

“Chadwick has been dealing with health issues associated with his advancing age for several years,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, vice president of animal care and health. “Two weeks ago, he developed lameness in his right forelimb, which rapidly progressed to generalized pain that we suspected was associated with spinal changes. He did not respond to multiple treatments for pain relief.

“Three days ago, we performed a CT scan, which confirmed our suspicion that he had progression of degenerative spinal disease, which is common in geriatric carnivores. Based on his deteriorating condition and his advanced age, the decision was made for humane euthanasia.”

Born at the Indianapolis Zoo in 1998, Chadwick arrived in Santa Barbara in 2003 for the opening of the Cats of Africa exhibit, which also featured black-footed cats. He shared space with female lion Gingerbread, with whom he sired two living offspring during their 14 years together.

At 21, Chadwick was considered geriatric, and had been receiving medical care for ailments typically associated with aging big cats (such as renal failure) for several years.

He had cataract surgery in 2010, and in recent years, the zoo’s animal care staff provided a specialized diet, daily training sessions, and unique enrichment items to keep him as engaged and comfortable as possible.

“Chadwick lived a healthy, active life here at the Santa Barbara Zoo,” said Rich Block, Santa Barbara Zoo president/CEO. “He was well-loved by those who looked after him, and provided a meaningful connection to our guests as a representative for his vulnerable wild counterparts.

“He has been a part of the zoo family for many years, and our staff and volunteers are grieving this significant loss.”

In the wild, many elderly male lions live solitary lives, having been ousted from the pride by younger, stronger males. After the passing of his mate Gingerbread in 2017, Chadwick lived on his own, mirroring this natural stage of lion social structure.

Gingerbread and Chadwick produced two living offspring: Kiki (female), the first African lion ever born at the Zoo, was born in 2004, and Docha (male), was born in 2005.

Both Kiki and Docha moved to other zoos as part of the AZA Species Survival Plan, and Kiki has produced two litters.

Plans for more lions to take up residence in Cats of Africa are in the works, and may involve a male-female pair with a breeding recommendation from the AZA. More details will be announced as they become available.

As Santa Barbara Zoo Premier Foster Feeders, the Dreier Family generously sponsored Chadwick since his arrival in 2003.

Anyone wishing to make a gift in memory of Chadwick may consider these options: make a donation to the Santa Barbara Zoo (www.sbzoo.org/support), which funds general operations to support the Zoo’s animals, conservation work and education efforts; or purchase an enrichment item for another zoo animal on the zoo’s Toys4Animals Amazon Wish List.