A new lion, perhaps even two, soon may replace Mufasa, Como Park Zoo’s “great animal ambassador” euthanized last week.

The process has begun to find a successor for the 17-year-old cat, who was put down after suffering for three weeks with a blood disorder. Agencies in charge of placing zoo animals nationally have been contacted about the opening at the zoo, which can take up to two new lions.

Matt Reinartz, the zoo’s public relations manager, said the African lion’s death has left a void for zoo visitors and staffers.

“The lion is such an iconic figure, such a strong figure, so it’s hard to see when an animal like that is gone,” Reinartz said. “But we’re going forward.”

Not everyone is eager to see Mufasa replaced. Lynne Ploetz, director of Happy Hound Rescue, a local nonprofit dedicated to saving dogs at risk of being destroyed in animal control facilities, said she thinks the Como Park Zoo is too small to provide large animals with adequate stimulation.

The Como Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which develops species survival plans to oversee animal population management and bring new animals to zoos. The zoo is following AZA’s lion species survival plan to find Mufasa’s replacement.

African lion populations have declined about 30 percent over the last two decades, prompting conservation efforts to expand in recent years.

Working with the AZA is a process that happens with all of the zoo’s animals, Reinartz said. When Como’s gorilla exhibit was dramatically expanded in 2013, the zoo had only three gorillas; within a year, five more were found.

“It’s kind of like a chess game, behind the scenes,” Reinartz said. “We’re thinking of how we want to place these animals for genetic reasons.”

The Como zoo also gives animals to the AZA. “We have a giraffe born probably every year,” Reinartz said. “They don’t all stay here; we find homes for all of these giraffes.”

But Ploetz said that Como doesn’t have enough space for big animals.

“The zoo has a small footprint. A giraffe or a lion can’t live any kind of normal life there,” she said.

Reinartz said the Como zoo is used to criticism about captive animals.

“There has been an outpouring of well wishes on our social media channels,” Reinartz said. “Some negative comments, too. Folks that know a lot about conservation efforts police themselves.”

 

Isabella Murray is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.