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Houston Zoo’s Elderly Male Cheetah Dies

Kito, a 13-year-old cheetah at the Houston Zoo, was humanely euthanized Monday morning after battling chronic arthritis and kidney disease. Neither of these conditions can be cured and are not uncommon in geriatric felines. With help from the Zoo’s veterinary team, Kito’s arthritis pain was carefully managed, and he received supportive care for his kidney disease. His condition was well controlled for many years until recently when Kito’s keepers became concerned with his mobility and comfort. Ultimately, his condition progressed to the point where treatment did not provide enough relief or comfort.

“Our priority in caring for our animals is to ensure they have the best quality of life possible,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “Making the decision to euthanize any of our animals is not one that is taken lightly. We have difficult conversations with our incredible veterinarians and world-class animal keepers to make sure all other resources and alternatives have been exhausted. Every decision that we make has the animal’s well-being as the top priority and that includes end-of-life decisions.”

Kito was treated with multimodal pain management and more recently received voluntary fluid injections under the skin for his kidney disease. Thanks to the keepers’ exceptional care and training, Kito participated in his own medical care and monitoring, including voluntary blood draws from his tail. His participation helped the Zoo provide him an excellent quality of life for so long.

Kito and his brother, Kiburi, came to the Houston Zoo as cubs in 2007 and are well known by Houstonians for their participation in the popular Cheetah Walk encounter. In their later years, the brothers have retired from that program and are Zoo favorites as they soak up the Houston sun on their rocky outcroppings. Younger cheetahs, Dinari and Dash, have taken up the mantel as Cheetah Walk participants.

Kiburi, also 13 years old, is undergoing treatment for similar age-related issues. Quality care and excellent advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and cheetahs, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Kito and three remaining cheetahs at the Houston Zoo serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. The Houston Zoo protects cheetahs in the wild by providing support for antipoaching work in Africa. African antipoaching scouts are hired from the local communities and trained to find traps set for wildlife and apprehend poachers.