We are heartbroken to have to say farewell to our dear Junior. Hundreds of you sent messages of support after Junior was diagnosed with cancer and we all rooted for him but it was not to be.
Our ADI Wildlife Sanctuary team had acted quickly when Junior did not come with his brothers for food, and was not moving normally. Our veterinarian, Peter Caldwell, sedated Junior and examined him, and he appeared to need dental surgery. He was taken to hospital. Before the dental work, Peter decided to do a thorough check and arranged ultrasound scans, x-rays and blood tests. The dreadful news from the ultrasound was that poor Junior had cancer in his liver. Peter scheduled immediate surgery, removing a huge tumour covering much of Junior’s liver and invading other organs, and took samples to test for the type of cancer.
Tests showed the cancer was a fast moving, aggressive type, spreading “like wildfire”; it had already moved to Junior’s lungs and elsewhere. The cancer was very large and more of his liver needed to be removed than had been initially hoped, leaving the remaining organ unable to function enough to sustain Junior – options like transplants and dialysis, as used in humans, are not possible for lions. We had to face the heart-breaking reality that dear Junior would never run across his habitat with his brothers again.
Peter remarked that Junior’s overall appearance and body condition were good, and it is a credit to our team that they noticed something was wrong so quickly.
As our supporters may recall, several of our older lions have suffered from cancer and we asked Peter whether any specific evidence had been established about the causes. We were told that although the scientific literature on this subject is not yet certain, it is known that poor nutrition in early life, with high levels of stress, causes higher levels of hormones like cortisone, so these animals are predisposed to abnormal growths and tumors later in life. It is likely that Junior’s life in the circus caught up with him.
The greatest comfort we can all share is that after years of suffering in a circus in Colombia, Junior enjoyed his final years happy with Bumba and Zeus in their ADI Wildlife Sanctuary habitat. At our sanctuary, Junior enjoyed more space than he had ever known, the sun on his back, the freedom to roam wherever he liked – he got to choose whether to climb onto a platform to watch the view, or lie under it and snooze. He saw rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and mongooses run across the habitat, and watched the flock of white Ibis flying in and out. He roared with his brothers and other lions roared back. He enjoyed the catnip and other treats. He grew in confidence as he knew he was treated with respect and love by his human carers.
Our grateful thanks to all of you, our supporters, who helped us give this beautiful individual his pride and freedom for those precious years.