Sampson the jaguar, a mainstay at Hattiesburg Zoo, died Wednesday afternoon, according to a press release from the zoo.
Officials say the jaguar was humanely euthanized following a decline in his quality of life due to old age. He lived to be 19 years old.
Katie Barry, senior zookeeper at the Hattiesburg Zoo, regularly trained and cared for Sampson. She recalls how proud he was at the grand opening of his exhibit in 2005, showing off for the crowd.
"He was one of the icons of the zoo that the public loved and admired," she said "He will be sorely missed."
The jaguar is the third-largest feline following the tiger and the lion, and is a species native to the Americas. The jaguar, an apex predator, is largely a solitary animal. Its numbers are in a decline in the wild.
Sampson, who came to the zoo in 2001, was a "must-see" animal for zoo guests.
Sampson enjoyed regular training activities with his keepers, including the creation of paw print paintings, which were occasionally sold in the zoo gift shop. The public often had the chance to watch as Sampson played with his toys and interacted with his handlers.
"We take comfort in knowing that Sampson had a healthy, long and full life at the zoo," said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention and Tourism Commissions. "We are deeply saddened by his passing."
Although officials said Sampson is irreplaceable, the zoo plans to continue presenting jaguars to its guests in the future.