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Tigers and bears but no lions (oh my)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Don’t expect to hear any lions roar at Albuquerque’s zoo anytime soon.

With the Friday morning death of 19-year-old lioness Sarabi, the ABQ BioPark zoo will be without a lion exhibit until next summer at the earliest, zoo manager Lynn Tupa said Monday.

Lioness Sarabi, top and her companion Cosmo, bottom share their new home together in 2011 at the Rio Grande Zoo at the Albuquerque Biological Park. Sarabi died Friday, just a few months after Cosmo. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Lioness Sarabi, top and her companion Cosmo, bottom share their new home together in 2011 at the Rio Grande Zoo at the Albuquerque Biological Park. Sarabi died Friday, just a few months after Cosmo. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Before obtaining any new lions, the zoo will wait for construction of a new jaguar exhibit across from the lion exhibit to be completed.

“We want to get that done before bringing in new lions, because that would be a lot of noise and very stressful to new cats,” she said.

That construction is expected to begin in the next two or three months, and take three to four months to complete, Tupa said.

Once that is done, she said, the zoo will modify the lion exhibit by raising the walls and expanding into an adjoining yard before arranging to get a couple of new lions.

Ultimately, Tupa said, long-range zoo construction plans include a new and larger area for big cats, funded by the recently voter-approved one-eighth of 1 percent addition to the gross receipts tax.

Sarabi had been suffering from renal failure, but the actual cause of death was determined to be a ruptured splenic tumor, Tupa said. Keepers at the zoo said Sarabi’s health was further compromised after her companion, 18-year-old Cosmo, died in August of kidney disease and lymphoma.

Cosmo, a resident of the BioPark zoo since 2004, had been confiscated from a meth lab where he was used as a guard animal. He was brought to the zoo as a companion for female lion Sarah, whose mate had passed away. When Sarah died in 2011, Sarabi arrived at the zoo from Texas to be a companion for Cosmo.

In captivity, big cats live an average of 19 years, compared with their life span of 10 to 14 years in the wild.

Tupa said lions for the zoo will come from other zoos around the country that have lion-breeding programs.

In the last few years, the zoo has seen a number of animal deaths, mostly age related. Many of the animals were euthanized by zoo veterinarians.

Also this year, Junior, a lemur believed to be 9 or 10 years old, was killed by Brian, a 26-year-old siamang – a type of gibbon – who forced his way through a mesh barrier; and Daizy, a 5-year-old Asian elephant, died after battling a deadly virus.

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