San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Animal welfare

Kivú's health condition worsens; officials evaluate options

The health of Kivú, the only living lion in Costa Rica, deteriorated in recent weeks, and a group of experts are evaluating options including putting him to sleep.

Bernardo Jaén, General Director of the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’ National Animal Health Service (SENASA), told The Tico Times on Wednesday that the lion has lost his appetite and has eaten only soup for the past few days.

Jaen said that on Feb. 6, Kivú’s caretakers conducted a general checkup of the 18-year-old lion including X-rays, ultrasound and also took blood samples.

“Results showed that Kivú’s chronic renal disease has worsened. He also lost weight and is showing very low mobility,” he said. Those results are consistent with a previous evaluation conducted in January.

Experts are evaluating “whether to continue giving him more drugs; in the event that his condition doesn’t show any improvements, they might even suggest conducting an assisted death,” Jaen added.

The group includes experts and officials from SENASA, the Environment Ministry (MINAE), the National University and from ZooAve, the lion’s current home in the province of Alajuela.

The final recommendation on the lion’s fate will be announced tomorrow. The first communication will be to both the Environment and the Agriculture and Livestock ministers; “then we will make a public announcement,” Jaen said.

He also noted that the lion is being monitored around the clock with the help of three cameras and that he is receiving all necessary medical attention.

Iconic animal

Officials of MINAE and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry relocated Kivú to ZooAve, a private shelter, from his old home at a cage at the Simón Bolívar Zoo in downtown San José on Dec. 5.

At the time, officials said the relocation was conducted to provide Kivú with better living conditions. Evaluations from both ministries in September concluded that the zoo cage where Kivú was being exhibited was unsuitable for the old feline.

He now lives in a 300-square-meter space (some 3,300 square feet) surrounded by nature, with plants, ramps and a pond. The space also has a cave and other spaces where he can hide if he wants to, and he is no longer on public display.

Kivú arrived at the zoo in 1999 and had already exceeded the average of 14 years that captive lions usually live, SENASA officials have indicated.

Contact L. Arias at

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This reminds me of my well-meaning wife carefully rearranging the bedding of our dogs. She straightens and fluffs the material to her liking whereupon the dogs promptly rearrange it to suit themselves. The stakes are not high there and the dogs outnumber her three to one.

It’s important to remember the objective is to help the animal, not your conscience. A aged animal relocated abruptly to a alien environment should be expected to be adversely affected. And now those unseeing persons will attempt to assuage their guilty conscience by euthanasia. Problem solved.

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Likely Kivú in his new digs is feeling isolated now that he is no longer on public display and there are no zoo patrons for him to see anymore which surely broke the monotony of being caged all the time.

All those PETA do-gooders seem to have ignored the fact that he was for most of his life a circus performer and that he had also been raised in captivity so he had been used to having crowds of people react to his performances.

Poor Kivú may now be feeling like he is in solitary confinement and is simply bored to death.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway. I know that I wouldn’t want to be in solitary confinement.

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