A Tribute to Cookie

African Lion
September 1998 – March 9, 2021

We are deeply saddened to inform our Zoo friends that we humanely euthanized our female lion, Cookie.  She had severe, chronic, progressive, irreversible, degenerative changes in her vertebrae and spinal cord leading to significant hind limb muscle loss and weakness that greatly affected her mobility and quality of life.  She had been closely monitored by our dedicated Carnivore staff and veterinary team who kept her as comfortable as possible for the past few months.  Cookie was 22-years-old and the median life expectancy is 16.9 years of age.  She lived a good, long life here at the Phoenix Zoo and will be greatly missed.

Below is a tribute from her primary keeper, Heather Vetter, along with some of our favorite pictures of Cookie.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Cookie?
By Heather Vetter, Carnivore Keeper

The snickerdoodle, the biscotti, the butterscotch drizzle, the kukamata, the macaroon, the…..wait.  The kukamata?  Ahhhh.  That’s my favorite cookie of all.

Cookie, or Kukamata as she was formerly known, was born circa September of 1998 at an unknown location along with her big brother Sheik.  Cookie and Sheik both started out life in a rather precarious predicament.  Initially in the hands of a private owner, the cubs spent the majority of their days either confined to a child’s playpen or being touted around fairs and shows so that a premium could be collected as they posed for photos with paying customers.  When Sheik began to develop rickets as a very young cub, thankfully, a Good Samaritan reported the abuse, and Cookie and Sheik were confiscated by state authorities.  They soon found a new home at the Pittsburgh Zoo and enjoyed the next several years there.  Unfortunately, the lion house became just too crowded after a while, and Cookie and Sheik were not adapting well.  They needed a new home.  As fate would have it, the Phoenix Zoo was in prime position to offer just that, as companionship was desperately needed for our elderly resident lioness, Pima.  Cookie and Sheik arrived in Phoenix in January 2005 and quickly settled in.  Cookie’s beauty and unique personality were obvious from the start, and she soon garnered the attention and admiration of guests and keepers alike.

Cookie was a strong lioness who demanded respect.  Very discerning when it came to the company she would keep, you could count on one paw the number of keepers she immediately took a shine to.  Others had to spend years offering gifts and kind words to win her over.  And yet others could never do anything right in her eyes, and she would deal with you if and when she saw fit!  Unless you had a chicken, of course.   

Notorious for shifting on her own schedule, Cookie seemed to know exactly how to thwart a good plan.  Weed whip and tree trim on the books for Tuesday in the lion yard?  Tuesday would roll around, and, without fail, Cookie had slapped a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the exhibit door, along with a curt suggestion to reschedule.  As a result, Horticulture staff affectionately referred to her as “our calendar girl.”

Cookie enjoyed many things, but first and foremost, she was an avid sun worshipper.  She would lie on her back, shamelessly exposing her lily-white belly to the warm rays, with anywhere between one and four paws up and dangling lazily in the breeze.  She was the perfect golden sundial.  Left rear paw at 45 degrees and pointed west?  It’s 3 o’clock.  She also had a never-ending love of fresh catnip and paper mache balls.  She would hold both tightly to her chest and roll around on her back like a silly kitten with a squishy ball of yarn!  In addition, she immensely enjoyed stalking the occasional duck that had the misfortune of landing in her pond, as well as stalking something much larger, namely her mate Kitambi.  She was often seen hunkering down in the tall grass (remember that grass that couldn’t get cut?), intently waiting for the precise moment to pounce on Kitambi when he was distracted elsewhere.  She then initiated a full charge, at which point, Kitambi would roll over on his back, throw his paws up in the air, and appear to giggle like a schoolgirl!  Totally undignified but absolutely adorable.  

Cookie lived a long, full life of 22 years, an advanced age that many lions never attain.  She will be missed dearly, her proud roar absent from the landscape.  But that magnificent roar will echo in our hearts forever.