Roaring into her 20s: Canberra Zoo’s Millie the lioness celebrates 21st birthday

Albert McKnight 1 February 2021
Millie the Lioness

Millie gives a roar of approval over her presents as she celebrates her 21st birthday on Monday. Picture: Supplied.

Congratulations are in order for Canberra Zoo and Aquarium’s popular lioness Millie, who has just marked her 21st birthday.

The zoo celebrated the milestone with a special event on Monday (1 February), with her keepers, zoo visitors and Jamala Wildlife Lodge guests joining her as she opened her presents.

“We put presents in her yard filled with her favourite treats and we allowed her to have them all to herself today so she didn’t have to share them with her two boys!” senior keeper at the zoo Katie Ness said.

“She had a great time.

“One of the boys came out afterwards, saw the boxes and was like ‘I missed out’ and away he went!”


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Ms Ness said at the age of 21, Millie was now one of the oldest lions in the country. While tawny lions can live up to 15 years in the wild, they can last for up to 25 to 30 years in captivity.

“Twenty-one is a pretty good milestone,” she said.

“To make it to 30 is a huge achievement.

“She’s an old girl, but you wouldn’t know it. She keeps up with the boys, she doesn’t show her age, and she lets them know she’s the boss.”

Millie inspects her gifts

Millie celebrates her 21st birthday on Monday with presents. Picture: Supplied

Millie was born on 1 February 2000 and has been with the Canberra zoo since she was 20 months old. She became a mother to Marjan and Sabi, the two boys with her in the enclosure, in June 2002.

Ms Ness said Millie was in good health for an animal of her age and was a very sweet-natured big cat.


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“As her keepers, she is one of our favourites. She doesn’t roar or growl; she’s just happy to do her thing,” she said.

“Some days she’s affectionate, some times she’s not.

“It’s always pretty special to have that kind of relationship with a lion. It’s not something everyone gets to do in their life. It’s a pretty amazing experience.”

Mill the Lioness

Millie celebrates her 21st birthday with presents. Picture: Supplied.

One of the reasons Millie is so special is because she smiles!

Ms Ness said years ago, her keepers were trying to teach Millie to keep her mouth open so they could see the condition of her teeth.

But she said in the process, they accidentally taught Millie to smile at them, “so she gives us a smile every now and then!” she said.


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