The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Zoo Memorializing Beloved Lion Who Once Attacked Keeper

By Paul Biasco | June 21, 2013 1:30pm
 Adelor, a beloved lion at Lincoln Park Zoo for years, has been memorialized with a bronze statue.
Adelor at Lincoln Park Zoo
View Full Caption

LINCOLN PARK — A Lincoln Park Zoo lion whose roar attracted visitors for years — but who also once attacked its keeper — has been memorialized in bronze.

Adelor is only the second animal to be memorialized with such a statue in the zoo's 145-year history, and touching the bronze statue — unlike the actual lion — will be encouraged.

The African lion had been a mainstay at the zoo, where he lived for the majority of his 18-year life, and visitors would flock to see him when he began roaring, according to Mammal Curator Mark Kamhout.

Adelor made the news for a very different reason in 2004 when he and another lion attacked zoo keeper Nancy DeFiesta, nearly ending her life.

"That's not any part of the story or what we are celebrating by any means. He was just a really beloved animal at the zoo," said Sharon Dewar, the Lincoln Park Zoo's public relations director. "He didn't do anything wrong. It was human error."

Shortly after the attack, DeFiesta agreed that it was only a natural reaction by the animals, according to a report in the Sun-Times.

DeFiesta remembered working in the lion moat in September of 2004 when the female lion approach her.

"... My heart sank," she told the Sun-Times. "... I remember thinking it wasn't real. This is a dream. I actually saw myself lying there dead with the lions and thinking there's nothing I can do."

The female bit DeFiesta's shoulder and Adelor bit her under her right breast leaving a large wound, according to the Sun-Times. Adelor then took her head into his mouth, but did not chomp.

DeFiesta required hours of surgery and months of physical rehabilitation, but she never blamed the lions.

"They did what came natural to them," she told the Sun-Times shortly after the attack. "They're lions, for goodness sakes."

The new 1,200-pound bronze statue of Adelor sits upon a rocky outcropping, similar to the area where the lion would survey his territory and monitor his pride, according to the zoo.

The statue contains features that are immediately recognizable for those who knew Adelor and is located at the main east gate entrance of the zoo.

That includes a cleft chin, faint scars on his nose and an intense glare that will catch visitors' eyes, according to the zoo.

“It’s really special to remember and honor one of our beloved residents in this way,” said Troy Baresel, senior vice president of operations at the zoo. “In life, Adelor was one of our most photographed animals. We hope he will be so again.”

The statue, which was created by local artists Anna Koh Varilla and Jeffrey H. Varilla, will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Adelor was euthanized in February of 2012 due to progressively deteriorating health and old age, according to the zoo.

The median life expectancy for lions is 14.

“Guests of all ages would flock to the lion exhibit when Adelor began roaring as he announced his territory several times a day," Kamhout said shortly after his death. "He was a wonderful leader of the pride and was very protective and affectionate of the females under his care.”