ZOOKEEPERS have spoken of their heartbreak after one of its lionesses died earlier this week.

Malika, who was 16 years old, had become unwell over a short period of time.

Colchester Zoo said she had become very lethargic and keepers noticed a loss of appetite.

Different treatments and therapies were recommended but unfortunately, they had less effect than hoped.

On Tuesday the decision was taken to examine Malika under general anaesthetic, X-rays, ultrasound examinations and bloods were taken to help diagnose Malika’s health condition.

Results sadly indicated liver disease.

Although Malika recovered from the anaesthetic, the prospect of her making a full recovery was slim.

Despite this, the Animal Care Team held out hope that Malika would pull through and undergo further medication.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday morning, Malika passed away despite all best efforts taken to help her.

A spokesman for the zoo said: "In what is already a very difficult and hard time, Colchester Zoo are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Lioness Malika at the age of 16 years old.

"Not only will all the staff at Colchester Zoo miss Malika terribly but she leaves behind her sister Naja and cousin, male lion Bailey.

"As all three were related they were not a breeding group, but they had a strong bond with one another having lived at Colchester Zoo together since 2010 and all coming from the same park previous to this.

"Despite Bailey being the dominant male within the pride, Malika was also very much ‘in charge’, she loved her food and would often have first pickings after cheekily stealing from Bailey.

"Malika will definitely leave a big hole in the hearts of the Animal Care Team and Lion Rock will not be the same without her.

"There is never a good time to say goodbye to an animal who has been part of the family for so many years, it is always a very difficult and sad time, even more so in these unprecedented times we find ourselves in.

"The Animal Care Team will be making sure that Bailey and Naja recover from the loss of Malika as well as supporting one another through this sad time."

Hannah, one of Malika’s keepers added: “Malika was our feisty protective female of the pride who had a big personality and would always protect her sister Naja.”