FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo beloved African lion, Bill, has been diagnosed with rapidly spreading cancer.
The zoo on Thursday said a medical exam of 10-year-old Bill revealed he had lumps consistent with cancer. Dr. Joe Smith, director of animal programs at the zoo, told NewsChannel 15 later that Bill could live two days or two months.
“He first presented with just a change in appetite and decreased activity and we knew something was wrong,” said Smith.
Bill arrived at the children’s zoo in December 2008. He quickly became a guest favorite along side Ina, the zoo’s female African lioness, the pair the poster animals for the zoo’s rehabilitated African Journey section. To say Bill is a hit at the zoo is an understatement.
“We see it every day when we’re open. People come in and typically go straight to the African journey on their zoo visit and everyone wants to see Bill,” communications specialist Jessica Brita-Segyde said.
Zoo leaders said they became concerned after Bill had a bloody nose in the fall of 2015. They said zoo keepers also recorded inconsistencies with Bill’s appetite.
In response, keepers monitored Bills eating patterns, weight, and overall health daily.
Bill was immobilized in February by the zoo’s veterinary team for a medical exam, and afterward, his condition initially improved, but then regressed, the zoo said.
The cancerous lumps were discovered Wednesday during a second medical exam.
In the hours after the zoo announced Bill’s grim diagnosis, hundreds in the community shared memories of the lion on social media. The hashtag #BilltheLion was created on Twitter.
“That means so much to our animal care staff,” Brita-Segyde said. “I just checked our Facebook account. There were 300 supportive comments from the community offering support and sending good vibes is one that I saw over and over again. I saw hashtag Bill the Lion.”
“Bill’s friendly, laid back personality has always made him a hit with the staff,” said Smith. “He is a favorite with our visitors, posing regularly in front of the smaller exhibit window for that perfect photo. The people in our community know him by name.”
Bill’s condition means he won’t be out for visitors when the zoo opens April 23, the zoo said.
Officials said, though, that he will have access to his behind-the-scenes exercise yard where he can be comfortable and rest in privacy.
With his declining health the zoo is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Species Survival Plan to possibly bring a new lion to the zoo.
“We would cooperate with AZA and SSP to acquire a species that would be a good fit for our lioness Ina or maybe two new species or whatever is best for the overall species for their genetic diversity within zoos,” said Brita-Segyde.
The zoo added that they are in no rush to acquire a new lion as their focus is on making Bill as comfortable as possible.