Sheba's old age paired with the extreme heat impeded her ability to recover.
CNN  — 

A 17-year-old lion overheated and died at a North Carolina animal sanctuary during last week’s heat wave.

The Carolina Tiger Rescue announced Tuesday that Sheba, a female lion that had lived at the facility since 2010, died after severe heat exhaustion caused her organs to fail.

Employees wrote on Facebook that Sheba stood out as the “epitome of what it means to be a lion – strong, confident and smart.”

The lion got sick after eating a meal July 18, Michelle Meyers of Carolina Tiger Rescue told CNN. Her age, coupled with an excessive heat watch, impeded Sheba’s ability to recover on her own, she said.

“The heat certainly made the situation more complicated,” Meyers said.

Workers put Sheba on an IV to rehydrate her. But it was clear she wouldn’t survive after blood work showed extensive damage to Sheba’s kidney and liver, Meyers said.

The lion died Friday, she said.

According to the sanctuary, Sheba was a “pay-to-pet” cub in Mexico. At 6 months, she was moved to the Wild Animal Orphanage in Texas, where she stayed until it closed in 2010. She had been at the North Carolina site since.

Zoos take extra steps to prevent animals from overheating

Dr. Miranda Sadar, a veterinarian at Colorado State University, said heatstroke is rare among animals in captivity, particularly among lions. But organ dysfunction is common among older lions, she said, and often makes the cats much more sensitive to weather.

American zoos combated last week’s heat wave with ice filled with meat, bones and fish, finished with powders for electrolytes. Some animals spent the spell of extreme weather submerged in water and mud.