The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is saddened to announce that its caracal ambassador, Azalea, was humanely euthanized on Wednesday, April 5, at the Zoo’s Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.

 At 20, Azalea, or “ZZ” to her caretakers, was the Zoo’s oldest small cat and considered to be a geriatric animal. The Zoo’s expert animal and veterinary care teams had been monitoring Azalea for age-related issues including seizures. As Azalea’s health continued to decline despite supportive treatments, the Zoo’s veterinary and carnivore care teams knew her quality of life was deteriorating and made the difficult but necessary decision to humanely euthanize her.

 According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the average life expectancy for caracals is 12 years which Azalea lived well beyond, a testament to the advanced care and excellent wellbeing she received from those here at the OKC Zoo caring for her. 

The OKC Zoo’s carnivore caretakers have a successful history with training the Zoo’s big and small cat species to participate in a variety of medical behaviors that are critical to their health and wellness. Azalea actively participated in her own healthcare including voluntary blood draws, injections and fluid administration which were immensely helpful medical behaviors in her senior years. While our cats undergo regular wellness exams, increasing the frequency of blood draws ensures that caretakers are able to monitor for minor health changes that could alert them to an onset of an illness, such as kidney disease, which is common in geriatric cats.

Caracals are native to Africa, the Middle East and India. They are the heaviest and fastest of the small cats and are the largest small cats in Africa. These cats are very agile and are able to leap up to 10 feet in the air swatting at birds. Caracals are most often recognized by their large tufts of black hair on the tops of their ears. While not much is known as to the function of these tufts, the common theory is that they use the tufts to communicate with other caracals. Azalea was one of many residents in the Zoo’s Cat Forest habitat, home to many big and small cats from around the world including Sumatran tigers, jaguars, fishing cats and clouded leopards. 

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