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Wolves Kaja, top, and Keenai photographed in 2009 when they first arrived at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park, Watertown. Kaja passed away of cancer overnight Monday at the age of 15. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The New York State Zoo at Thompson Park announced Wednesday the passing of its eldest gray wolf, Kaja.

Zoo officials said she became noticeably ill last Wednesday, and was under close veterinary care. Unfortunately, she passed peacefully overnight at the zoo on Monday of cancer.

Kaja was born in March 2005 and became a permanent zoo resident in 2008 along with her lifelong mate, Keenai.

Over the years, she littered 30 pups — one, Luna, still resides at the zoo with Keenai — and others housed at various zoos across the country.

In the wild, a gray wolf’s average lifespan is between six to eight years. At 15 years old, Kaja lived a long life with Keenai, daughter Luna and all of the staff that cared for her.

“Kaja will be greatly missed by all especially those guests that had the chance to hear the ‘howling ballads’ by her, Keenai and Luna while at the zoo,” said Larry Sorel, zoo CEO and executive director. “Her life was symbolic of our great conservation efforts, as well as the amazing work of the zookeepers here. We are proud to have had her in our care.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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