Fifteen years ago, two unrelated juvenile lions were brought from South Africa (where they were born in captivity) to Madison's Henry Vilas Park Zoo in hopes that they would breed and help perpetuate the species.
The pair were named Henry and Vilas, and they were so prolific that they remained together for a decade and a half, during which time they produced eight cubs. The most high-profile birth was a litter of five cubs born in 2004. They were the zoo's star attraction during the summer of 2005.
Vilas stopped eating earlier this week, and zookkeepers discovered cancer that had spread throughout her body. She died on Wednesday. She is survived by her longtime companion, Henry, her last offspring, a male cub named Leo Pold, born last year and still residing at Vilas Zoo, and several grown cubs residing at other zoos.