SAN FRANCISCO—Sukari, the 20 year old lioness who resided at the San Francisco Zoo, passed away from splenic lymphoma, officials announced on Thursday, February 23. 

The lion had been undergoing cheomotherapy since October 2022. By December 2022, it was reported that she no longer had any detectable tumors and that her spleen decreased in size. According to the zoo, Sukari passed away around the February 18 – 19 weekend.  

“We are heartbroken for the loss of our beloved Sukari” said Tanya Peterson, CEO and executive director of the San Francisco Zoological Society. “We are also encouraged that advanced treatment of her cancer gave her some comfort, as both her appetite and behavior improved significantly over time, in part due to our integrated wellness approach which gave Sukari the best care possible for an aged animal with cancer.”

Sukari, her name meaning “sugar” in Swahili, was born in 2002 at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and was transferred to San Francisco as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which aims to sustain the genetic diversity of threatened and endangered species in zoos.

According to zoo officials, the lioness enjoyed playing soccer with indestructible boomer balls in her habitat’s moated area slamming them against the wall. Some of her favorite meals consisted of horse shanks, pork loin and goat’s milk.  

The average lifespan for an African lion in the wild is 15 to 18 years, and 25 years under captivity. Sukari is survived by her eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was described as a protective and loving mother to her son Jasiri by those who took care of her. Jasiri passed at age 16 in 2019. 

“She was stoic and fierce, but trusting with her long-time caretakers, and guests could see her close relationship with the other lions, as she was always close-by them,” said Dominick Dorsa, vice president of the zoo’s animal care and wellness team. 

“She was an incredible ambassador who helped educate our guests on the importance of lion conservation and her legacy will live on here at #SFZoo with son, Jasiri,” wrote the San Francisco Zoo in a statement. “She will be missed.”