Brownie, the Sacramento Zoo's spotted hyena and the oldest known hyena in U.S. captivity, died Monday night. Zoo staff said Brownie, 28, died in her sleep.
Born in Kenya, Brownie was brought to UC Berkeley as a cub, as part of a research program. While there, she and her sister were models for graphic artists creating the animated hyenas in the Disney movie "The Lion King."
She moved to the Sacramento Zoo in 1995 with a female companion, also from UC Berkeley, who died in 2006. Zoo officials said hyenas are typically territorial and live in matriarchal clans, making it difficult to introduce new companions, so zookeepers were the primary social contact with Brownie over the last few years.
Harrison Edell, general curator of the Sacramento Zoo, said keepers monitored Brownie's weight carefully in recent years, as she became more finicky in her old age.
"Keepers became very creative in food variety and presentation," he said. "She had become picky about her food and sometimes didn't have a good appetite. We rotated the kinds of meat and fish we fed her so she didn't get bored."
Edell said Brownie ate rabbit, one of her favorite meats, on Monday, then curled up in her den for the night. She was found dead in her den Tuesday morning, most likely from old age, Edell said.
Edell said Brownie was the last hyena at the zoo, and he doesn't foresee the zoo getting any more hyenas. The hyena den was previously a bear den, and is now considered outdated for both. It hasn't been determined how the space will now be used.
"Hyenas are amazing animals, and I'm not saying we wouldn't design a new space for hyenas sometime in the future," he said.
Spotted hyenas, also known as laughing hyenas, come from African grasslands, savannas and plains, said zoo officials. In the wild, they live 10 to 12 years; while in captivity, they generally live up to 25 years. At 28, Brownie was the oldest known spotted hyena in a U.S. zoo.
Edell said the zoo is mourning the loss of Brownie, and visitors will surely miss glimpsing her outside her den.
"Because hyenas are highly nocturnal, it was always a special treat for visitors when they got to see Brownie," he said. "Brownie was a unique individual who lived a long life. Her passing deeply affects visitors, volunteers and staff alike."