It’s with much sadness that the Milwaukee County Zoo announces its female jaguar, Stella, was humanely euthanized Feb. 5.
At 19 years old, she was experiencing chronic age-related health conditions that worsened and were not responsive to supportive care. After several days of intense care and tests, the decision was made to humanely euthanize her. She will be deeply missed by staff and visitors.
The animal care team observed Stella experiencing abnormal behavior and gastrointestinal discomfort, so the decision was made to examine her further under anesthesia and conduct tests. However, prior to the scheduled procedure, her condition drastically worsened with a bout of vomiting blood. This prompted the team to perform an emergency procedure.
Stella was found to have ulcers in the small intestine suspected to cause a chronic, slow blood loss leading to anemia. The anemia may have been present for some time. Health issues are not always easily detected in zoo animals, as they tend to “hide” deficits for self-preservation.
In addition to the anemia, Stella’s bloodwork showed signs of an infection and low protein level. Treatment was initiated immediately, and veterinary specialists were called in and consulted to collaborate on the case, which can be a standard course of action regarding particularly puzzling cases at the Zoo.
Over the course of a few days, Stella’s health declined, and she was not responding to supportive care. The animal care team was concerned for her quality of life and the difficult decision was made to euthanize her. A complete necropsy (animal autopsy) will be performed with final results coming in the next several months.
Stella was a well-known and easily recognizable animal at the Zoo — with her “picture-perfect” face and striking green eyes. Zookeepers comment that Stella was the matriarch of the Zoo’s Big Cat Country, and most of them have worked and cared for her directly for most of their careers. Zookeepers work hard to foster connections with animals in their care, and Stella was no exception. The veterinary team’s care for Stella went above and beyond what was necessary, and they will continue to work on this case to find answers. The team’s work will benefit future animals at MCZ and add to the exemplary care they receive.
Caregivers add that Stella was “a force” and did not dole out cooperation easily. She was difficult when she didn’t want to cooperate with zookeepers and “pushy” when she did! One of Stella’s primary zookeepers comments, Stella was the type of animal “that slowly grew roots in your heart that you didn’t know were there until it hits you one day. Stella will be missed beyond words.”
Stella arrived at MCZ in 2005 from the Fort Worth Zoo. It was intended for her to eventually pair with a male jaguar, a result of a breeding recommendation from the Jaguar Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The Jaguar SSP ensures zoo animal populations are genetically diverse for the long-term future.
In 2007, male jaguar, Pat, arrived at MCZ — a rescued and rehabilitated jaguar born in the wild in Belize. Because Pat was wild-born, his genes were valuable to add genetic health and diversity to the North American zoo population. Pat was considered a founder to the jaguar population.
Stella had two litters sired by Pat: two male cubs in 2012, and one female and one male cub in 2014. The male cub, born in 2014, was named Francisco and remains at MCZ. He’ll turn 9 years old in August. Stella, Pat, and Francisco will continue to serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
Since Stella and Francisco had been living separately for many years (reflecting jaguars in the wild, separating from their mothers at ~1 ½ years old), and jaguars are typically solitary animals, the animal care team feels he’ll continue to live an enriched, full life. MCZ is working to acquire a female jaguar in the next several months, as a breeding companion for Francisco.
We sincerely thank the Zoo’s care team as they worked tirelessly to tend to Stella and exhausted every resource. We are grateful for their dedication and diligence to try to see Stella through this medical crisis.
According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the median life expectancy of jaguars living in human care is 18 years old.