Lioness Dies During Heat Wave in North Carolina’s Wild Cat Sanctuary

July 24, 2019 Updated: July 24, 2019

A 17-year-old female lion overheated and died at a North Carolina wild cat sanctuary last week.

Keeper staff of at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina posted on Facebook on July 23, saying that a scorching heatwave has claimed the life of a lioness named Sheba, despite more than a day-long effort from staff to cool her down.

“Despite the quick reaction from the staff to get in with her and get her cooled down, her liver and kidneys were unable to recover,” the sanctuary wrote on Facebook. “For a 17-year-old lion, the heat took a toll.”

An intense heatwave swept through North Carolina and much of the east coast last week. North Carlina’s temperatures soared above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Carolina Tiger Rescue’s official website says a wild lion has an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, while lions living in captivity are expected to live 15 to 18 years. Sheba is quite old for a lion, and her age makes her more vulnerable to the deadly heat and the subsequent organ failure.

“After working for so long to try to bring her back, we had to make the heartbreaking decision to let her go,” the sanctuary’s post says.

Sheba was in charge of a pride of three lions that came to the CTR from Texas. According to the CTR’s web page dedicated to Sheba’s life story, Sheba was initially owned by exhibitors who charge people for a chance to take pictures and cuddle with her. As a cub, she once walked up and down the beaches of Cancún, Mexico on a leash.

When she was about six months old, her owner decided she was too much to handle, and she was sent to the Wild Animal Orphanage in Texas. She eventually joined the CTR family along with two other lions and seven tigers after the Texan orphanage went out of business in 2010.

Bearing the name related to the legendary queen, Sheba is described as a confident leader who is “typically up and around” and patrols their territory “very diligently.” They say she always kept two other lions, Sebastian, and Tarzan in line.

“While Sebastian and Tarzan hold a special place in my heart as the more delicate members of the pride, Sheba will also stand out to me as the epitome of what it means to be a lion—strong, confident, and smart,” says the post.

Carolina Tiger Rescue is a non-profit wild cat sanctuary that works to protect big cats in the wild and in captivity, taking in animals that have been confiscated, abandoned or need of a new home, according to its website.