The Hattiesburg Zoo has lost one of its most beloved attractions, John the Tiger.
The 15-year-old cat was euthanized by Zoo staff and local veterinarians Monday after he became paralyzed Thursday.
"John was treated extensively in hopes of reducing the swelling and alleviating the paralysis, but his condition rapidly deteriorated to the point our senior staff and veterinary partners felt our best choice was to take this humane action," said Zoo Director Lori Banchero.
A veterinary necropsy performed Monday evening found a cancerous growth on his intestines as well as acute spondylosis, a spinal degeneration and deformity of the joints of of the spine, common with aging. John's discs showed signs of severe wear and ultimately were the cause of his paralysis.
"John, was treated for arthritis in his legs as well as other age related health concerns during the past two years," Banchero said. "We tried to do our best for him, but nature had other plans."
John came to the Zoo in 1994 and rapidly became one of the main attractions. Often seen playing in the pool, he was known to splash and sometimes even "mark" visitors, leading them to scurry from the viewing area.
Following sessions, he often sucked his thumb while lying in the grass of the exhibit.
"Seeing such a large animal - a full 500 pounds - suck his thumb always delighted our visitors," Banchero said. "It was those little behaviors that made him beloved."
Zoo visitors, keepers and staff will have more than memories of John, as he fathered the Zoo's female tiger, Tigger, in 1997.
The Zoo has no immediate plans to replace the tiger in as they are in the development process of creating and funding a new Asian exhibit.