PJ Tamayo

Creature Discomforts

Though big-game hunting went so out with bwana, it would be a mercy killing only if someone — Cupid, perhaps — launched an estrogen-tipped arrow straight to the heart of Zenobia, a 650-pound male lion who lives at the Destiny Big Cat Sanctuary in Southwest Ranches. It seems the consequence of living without love could be just as physically imperiling for the big cat as a go at being the feline Saint Sebastian.

According to Victoria Canzonetta, who created and maintains the west Broward sanctuary, the drive to reproduce is so strong in male lions that not having sex actually makes them sick. The hormones that fuel this drive turn against the male lion's body, leaving him in an extremely agitated state that leads to health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, even cancer.

Though the sanctuary has three tigers, sadly for Zenobia, it has no female lions. As a result, this would-be king of the jungle is a shadow of the studly predator he should be. In the past year he has suffered blood in his stool, weight loss, vomiting, ulcers, and a nasty case of irritable bowl syndrome.


Destiny Big Cat Sanctuary

Before Hurricane Wilma hit, Canzonetta was soliciting donations to bring a lady lion to the sanctuary. Unfortunately the six-acre site was rocked by the storm, which destroyed much of its infrastructure and ruined the immaculately manicured exotic plants and trees. The waterfall under which the giant cats used to lounge has been buried, as well as most of the once-sparkling horseshoe-shaped lagoon.

"We're in strict survival mode now," says Canzonetta, who bolsters the sanctuary's half-million-dollar yearly budget by modeling for covers of romance novels with the likes of Fabio. She said it wouldn't be practical to bring another big cat to the sanctuary under the present circumstances.

In the meantime Zenobia waits, horny and restless.

As the sun sets on a recent afternoon, the cats became restive. Canzonetta lives on the sanctuary, and she stands on her deck, watching the shadows of ruined palm trees grow long against the muddy stillness of the now stagnant lagoon.

"He can hear us," she says, looking out toward the paddock where Zenobia paces restlessly.

Just then the lion lets out a deep growl, not a roar, but a guttural call that cuts the relaxed, late-afternoon haze with animal wanting. Canzonetta places her hands on her hips and responds to his call with a higher-pitched but no less emotive rejoinder.


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