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A Roar Instead of a Whimper

September 27, 2017

Fellow blogger Adam at Neko Random has been blogging about a recent trip to the North Carolina State Zoo, reminding me of an incident I’ll never forget.




When our son was small he loved going to the zoo. Back then, the Portland Zoo was well known for its elephant breeding program, but not much else. Every year we would walk past enclosures with sleepy bears, molting predatory birds and disinterested zebras. But one time was different.


I had just passed through the ticket gate with Mrs. C. and little CJ when people ahead of us started running, drawn by one of the most incredible sounds I’ve ever heard, similar to the sound of a freight train rushing down the tracks. We joined the stampede and quickly arrived at the lion compound. The zoo had only one lion and he really wasn’t much of an attraction; old, lazy from years of inactivity and forced feedings, he must have had a name but I can’t remember it.


Now this mangy cat was standing on a concrete promontory like a scene from The Lion King, looking little like the unconscious cat I’d seen year after year. Hundreds of spectators crowded the metal guardrail in front of the moat confining him. I pushed my way as close as possible so CJ could get a good view and when we couldn’t get any closer the lion opened his jaws and emitted a marrow-chilling roar that undoubtedly turned many undies yellow and prompted everyone, including me, to leap back a few steps.


From then on that lion put the Metro Goldwyn Mayer trademark to shame. He threw back his head and roared with enough energy to scare pee out of King Kong. He bared his teeth, squinted into the sun and let loose a boisterous outcry that overrode five million years of human evolution, a thundering reverberation that made me want to grab my child and run for safety—the atavistic sound that must have terrified early man roaming the savanna for food.


Having grown up on Tarzan movies, I’ve heard lions roar, but it’s an altogether different experience hearing one in person, up close. In the safety of a movie theater you can run for the EXIT when you can’t bear the sensation of your heart jack hammering against your ribs, your toes curling in your shoes as fear brushes up and down your spine.


He put on a show for hours, his piercing gaze reminding me that, even though we humans now rule a planet, it wasn’t so long ago when we were little more than someone’s supper.


The next day I was sitting at the breakfast table, one eye on CJ as he spilled Cheerios on the floor, the other eye on my morning paper. A headline caught my attention. Overnight the lion at the Portland Zoo had died. An autopsy had yet to be performed but the lion was old and it was assumed he’d died of natural causes. I can’t help wondering if he knew he was going to die—the reason he’d put on such a show.




Had he decided to go out with a roar instead of a whimper? No way; they’re just dumb animals. Right?




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He probably could sense his time was nearly up; probably why he was warning people away since wounded animals really don't want touched.
By: PT Dilloway on September 27, 2017
He definitely went out with a roar...probably letting everyone know he truly was King of the Jungle at one time.
By: Kathe W. on September 27, 2017
Sad he died that night. Maybe that was his final act and he knew it. I've heard lions roar in the zoo. It's really amazing.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on September 27, 2017
He must have known. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 27, 2017
I was just at that zoo on Sunday. The three lions were all resting comfortably, as were most of the big cats.
By: [not necessarily] Uncle Skip on September 27, 2017
The final curtain on a life in captivity. IMHO I think Zoo's should evolve and become sanctuaries for animals of the same kind and animals that can co-exist. Then focus on reproductive efforts. Won't be long before many species 'in the wild' become extinct.
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 27, 2017
I was fortunate to visit the St. Louis Zoo many times while growing up. When I was in college in Springfield, MO, some friends suggested we check out their zoo. I was fully anticipating the same kind of experience I remembered. I was sadly disappointed. It looked like somebody's back yard collection of cast-off exotic animals. My perception of zoos changed dramatically.
By: Val on September 27, 2017
They know when it's time. He was more than he seemed and wanted everyone else to know.
By: messymimi on September 27, 2017
yes, I think he probably knew, they are conscious beings just like us. it was his death song.
By: Ellen Abbott on September 27, 2017
something was up for sure, hope it was not pain.
By: cranky on September 27, 2017
That is an amazing and touching story. I've spent a lot of time recently watching lion roars with my grand daughter who is absolutely fascinated by roaring lions.
By: Tom Cochrun on September 27, 2017
I think the only truly dumb animals in this world are humans.
By: Mitchell is Moving on September 28, 2017
The thought was in the back of my mind as I read this that perhaps it was his show of rage and defiance at having spent his life in captivity. So sad..
By: Arkansas Patti on September 28, 2017
Went out like a champ, with a roar. :-) Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on September 28, 2017
I actually got a little teary eyed reading this. I really hate to see these wonderful animals in cages. Many years ago our city had a park with a tiny zoo with a lion in a much too tiny cage for him. Many times he would let out a roar you could hear all over the park, I often wondered if he was roaring in agony for being enclosed like he was. This great, wonderful creature should have been roaming in the wild with his mate. They finally removed him, hopefully to a better place.
By: Kate on September 28, 2017
He may have been in pain . . . physical or emotional. Animals feel, and I'm sure he didn't care to be caged until death.
By: jenny_o on September 28, 2017
Awwww this makes me sad. I hate hearing of animals dying in captivity. This poor animal knew he was dying and yes, he let out one last roar of protest.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on September 28, 2017
he knew he was going to die and he did his final bellow to let everyone know that, even if caged, he was still proud and amazing and never to be overlooked. He wasn't and you remember him to this day
By: Birgit on September 29, 2017
Maybe he was in pain and that's why he died?
By: LL Cool Joe on September 29, 2017
One last great hurrah for the lion!
By: Pixel Peeper on October 1, 2017

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