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Society Mourns Passing of Bunky the Lion

John Bergmann/Barbara Lathrop

The most difficult part of loving and caring for animals occurs when the time comes to say good-by. Sometimes that parting comes much earlier in life than we would like but is beyond our control to change. So it is with extreme sorrow that we must tell you of the death of our own wonderful "Lion King",  Bunky.

A short time ago, staff members who care for our big cats had noticed that Bunky seemed to be having some hair loss and change to the condition of the skin around his shoulders and mane. He was tranquilized and blood tests as well as a complete medical examination were done by our society vet in cooperation with our zoo veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals. Initial results yielded no definitive explanation for his problems. The veterinarians treated the skin problem with a topical spray. The problem persisted. After consultations, further testing was done to determine if the problems were related to Bunky's thyroid. This second round of testing indicated that his thyroid levels were low, so medication was administered. During this entire time, Bunky's appetite and behavior were unchanged. In the mornings, he still raced out of his den to let the zoo inhabitants know that he was there with loud roars and bellows. This was always Bunky's way of letting everyone know that he was indeed the King of his domain. But the skin problem persisted. Four days before Christmas, he seemed to be losing his appetite, so the veterinarians contacted an endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania who suggested more specific tests. On Christmas day, his two keepers and the zoo veterinarian met to discuss tranquilizing him the next day to take more blood tests. Many other plans were in the works by zoo staff and vets to do whatever was needed to keep him comfortable and healthy. Bunky seemed to be okay. He was "talking" to these staff members as he did every day and did not seem to be in any discomfort. He was left in his den, resting on his bed. Forty-five minutes later when the vet and staff returned to his den, they found that Bunky had left us. His death was sudden and unexpected. Our shock was beyond description. A post-mortem revealed that Bunky had a malignant adrenal gland tumor which had spread to his lungs. The effects of the tumor had falsified the earlier test results, so it had gone undetected and had complicated his treatment.Bunky's behavior had never indicated anything so serious was going on. We are left with fourteen years of memories of a lion whose character and life brought joy to all of us.

From the first day he came to the society, he was something special. He was just a six weeks old cub when he went to live in the home of our general manager, John Bergmann. His surrogate mother, father, and best friend was Wolfgang, John's German Shepard. They were inseparable - this silly, clumsy lion cub and his ever patient canine protector and playmate. Of course, lions do grow very large, so the time came when Bunky had to go to live at the zoo. Wolfgang was lost without him. John began to take Wolfgang to work with him everyday so he and Bunky could play together in the elephant barn while Sonny enjoyed the outside yard. Bunky was always very energetic and inquisitive. One day, Wolfgang was chasing Bunky around, and vice versa, when they ran into some watermelons and honeydew melons in Sonny's pen. They both decided to have a taste and so began a life-long love of melons. In addition, our understanding Staff who worked in the zoo were fair game for Bunky's practice sneak attacks. Like any other "kitten", Bunky loved to attack their legs as they walked through the area attending to their jobs. Many a pair of pants bore the evidence of such playful games..

We could go on forever with heart-warming stories of this remarkable creature. He added much joy to the lives of those of us lucky enough to work with him as he grew up as well as to those thousands of children who came to the zoo to see this real live Lion King.  Bunky's passing has left a tremendous void in our hearts, but  we find comfort in knowing that he is once again with his beloved Wolfgang, running free with no bars to confine him.


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