'He was a sweetheart': Aurora zoo mourns death of Tonka the cougar
Whether playing with a toy, sitting on top of the entrance to the cat building, or lounging in the shade of his den, cougar Tonka was a favorite of visitors to the Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora.
Tonka also had a special place in the hearts of its workers, starting when he arrived with his sister, Macha, in 2005 when they were 4-week-old kittens.
"He was a sweetheart," zoo manager Dan Powell said Friday of the big cat, who was euthanized this week after a sudden decline in his health.
Tonka had been treated for several years for arthritis. A few days ago, he stopped eating and drinking, Powell said, and would not move.
Workers eventually were able to get him to go inside and eat a little, but it was apparent he was in increased discomfort, and his quality of life was poor.
Veterinarians at the University of Illinois veterinary medicine college will perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death, be it arthritis, old age or something else, Powell said.
Tonka was "exceptionally old," Powell said, and when Powell came to the zoo in 2017, he warned the staff to prepare themselves to lose Tonka.
Cougars (also called pumas, mountain lions or panthers) usually live 12 to 15 years, he said. The puma concolor -- the scientific name -- is the largest of the North American cats.
Tonka and Macha were bottle-fed by the zoo's staff when they arrived from a breeder in Indiana. Macha died in 2015.
The zoo has one cat now, a Eurasian lynx named Tito.
Tonka played a part in the zoo's mission to educate people about the importance of conservation initiatives.
There are no plans yet to get another cougar because the city, which owns the park, is developing a new master plan for the site.
The zoo is 108 years old and features mammals, birds and reptiles, focusing on those native to the Americas. The zoo is at 1000 Ray Moses Drive.
If it decides to continue exhibiting cougars and other large carnivores, the enclosures will likely be redesigned, Powell said.