One of the lions at Yorkshire Widlife Park has died after being mauled in a fight with other big cats at the attraction.
Vets made the decision to put Johnny Junior - one of the pride rescued from a Romanian zoo- to sleep yesterday after he was injured when the animals began fighting.
A spokesman said: “Without any prior warning, the pride which included four females had a fight in which Johnny was injured.
“Staff managed to separate the lions within minutes of the fight starting and called them into the house, where the vet attended Johnny.
“Unfortunately, his injuries were such that there was no option but for him to be put to sleep. This was extremely distressing for the staff who have cared for 16 year old Johnny since he arrived in the UK in 2010 and especially as the whole episode was completely unprecedented and out of character for the pride.”
Johnny was one of the 13 lions whose plight was highlighted in a campaign to rescue them from appalling conditions in run down Oradea Zoo.
The story of the lions moved thousands of people to donate over £150,000 to bring Johnny and 12 other lions back to the purpose built Lion Country at Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
The 13 lions arrived at the Park in 2010 and were slowly rehabilitated into their new home under much veterinary care and careful husbandry by staff.
The lions regained their health and strength and enjoyed life in Lion Country – and hundreds of thousands of people have been to see them.
The spokesman added: “Yorkshire Wildlife Park announces with deep sadness that Johnny Junior, one of the famous lions rescued from Romania, has died
“The Directors of Yorkshire Wildlife Park would like to thank the veterinary teams from Portland House Veterinary Group from Retford who responded so quickly to this unexpected event and who have worked and supported staff to help improve the health of Johnny and the other lions since their arrival.
“The Park would also like to thank the dedicated staff team who have loved and cared for Johnny since his arrival and who today are shocked at the sudden loss of one who was a favourite at the Park for staff and visitors alike.”
Johnny Junior is the third of the lions to die since his arrival in the UK. Johnny Senior died in June 2012 while Cezar died in January of this year. There are ten remaining lions at the park.