Monday, 11 February 2013

Farewell to Solomon

Solomon: 1995 - 2013
The life of a zoo keeper is full of amazing highs, and some terribly sad lows. Solomon has been part of, and responsible for, so many great memories for all of those who worked with him; his death at the beginning of February was heartbreaking.

Solomon was almost 18 years old, a good age for a male lion in captivity; except for a few minor illnesses, he had enjoyed a healthy life. Routine blood tests a few years ago indicated that his kidney function was deteriorating, so he was monitored closely but continued to enjoy life to the full. Then, in mid January, Solomon suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. In consultation with the vet, and after all potential treatments failed to improve his condition, it was decided that the kindest thing would be to put him to sleep.      

Solomon was 3 years old when he moved to Dartmoor in 1998. He was introduced to a female, Emma, and her daughter, Peggy. Emma was a large and confident lioness and, unusually for these big cats, she remained the dominant animal in the pride throughout her life. Solomon would be put in his place in no uncertain terms were he to question her authority! The lions used to be fed through a sort of meat ‘post box’; Sol would hide cautiously behind this and wait for Emma to take her piece and move away before eating his own. Peggy was gentler and it wasn’t long before Solomon became a father, siring several litters of cubs over the next few years including, of course, Josie.

After Emma’s death in 2007, a year after Peggy’s, Solomon grew rapidly into his position as top cat and relished his new place as head of the family. He would still have to watch his meat though; any opportunity to steal a snack and Josie would be there!

Solomon was a very vocal lion, roaring several times each day and always when he’d just been fed. He definitely appreciated the sound of his own voice and over the years we watched him master the art of roaring whilst keeping hold of his meat in his mouth! Sol actually had a love of making any loud noise. He would pound on the feeding hatch which, over the years, caused so much damage it eventually had to be removed! Solomon would also thump repetitively on the door to his house if the keepers were inside cleaning. This gave the door an unusual polish but eventually he bent it out of shape, and it was replaced with a mesh hatch! Still determined to make his presence felt, when shut in prior to feeding during his later years, he would pummel the floor with alternate feet – he even taught his daughter this one!

Solomon, rising to the challenge
Like any lion, Solomon spent countless hours sleeping but he enjoyed the different enrichment items we provided and particularly liked different smells, which encouraged him to scent mark. Solomon was actually quite nervous of new things and situations so we always took care to introduce anything unfamiliar gradually. He was more courageous when food was available. He once climbed much higher than we ever imagined; to reach some meat that had been placed high up in the trees for Josie. He then leapt head first 12 feet to the ground while the gathered crowd let out an almighty gasp! Solomon also gave visitors a spectacular display whenever his meat was hung from the trees. 

All those who knew Solomon well, right through to those who met him just once, were impressed by his majestic looks, his strength and amazing power. What some people may not have realised is that, though there are many wonderful words we can use to describe Solomon, intelligent probably shouldn’t be one of them! This is well illustrated by one of the very first things I was taught about looking after him. ‘If you need to get Sol in quickly for any reason, and you don’t have any meat close at hand, put a log in his house’. This, I was told, he would mistake for meat and walk straight in.  He did, and not just once or twice, but repeatedly, and over many years!  

Solomon and Josie; happy cats
Certain animals, in any zoo, will have such beauty, presence and personality that they become a favourite with many staff and visitors alike. Solomon definitely lived in this category; past and present keepers all found him nothing but a joy to care for, and hundreds of visitors have spoken of him with great wonder and admiration. Solomon leaves two sons and a daughter in other zoos, as well as Josie here at Dartmoor. The two grew ever closer, Josie keeping Sol young with her fun and games and Dad generally obliging and joining in. She will miss him as do we, he will never be forgotten. 

Solomon: an unforgettable lion, an unforgettable life.

Hannah Webb
Senior Keeper


  1. We wondered where he was on our last visit :( Sad, sad news

  2. I have been visiting the Zoo since it opened in the 90's and have seen many changes in that time, from the enclosures, animals and even the owners.

    In all that time Solomon had been there and I am incredibly saddened by his loss.

    I know that Benjamin and his staff did everything they could for Solomon and it was with heavy hearts that they made the decision to put Solomon to sleep.

    Thank you Hannah for writing such a lovely farewell to such a magnificent character, farewell Solomon and happy roaring wherever you are now.....

  3. what a majestic beast you were Solomon. have been missing your roar everyday.
    lovely piece Hannah and i know its from the heart

  4. I'm so sorry to hear about Soloman's death. I just watched We Bought a Zoo movie. It was so good about what happen when the owners bought Darmoor Zoo. Did Sparta the tiger really have to be put to sleep. In the movie he was hurting so bad that the ok was given to put him down.
    I wish I was able both physically and had the money I would love to see Darmoor Zoo one of these days.
    May God Bless You all For What You Do For the Animals.
    Your Friend,
    Judi Shaw
    135 Eastway Rd.
    Troy,N.C 27371 U.S.A
    Troy,N.C 27371 U.S.A

  5. Just watched the movie "We bought a zoo" Thank you for the moving memorial to Solomon.

  6. Thank you for your lovely tribute to Solomon. We have visited DZP several times and seeing him was always a highlight of our visit. We especially loved his roaring and my husband, Bill, does an uncanny immitation of his roar, so his memory lives on in our household.