Orson was a charismatic jaguar that amazed and inspired countless people.
  • 1990s
  • 2000s

Over the course of 21 years—an uncommonly long life for a jaguar—Orson developed a dedicated following. People would spend a little longer at his enclosure to appreciate his beautiful, dark coat, repositioning if necessary to see the black spots on a brown background, which was only revealed when the sunlight hit just right. Orson, who weighed about 200 pounds in his prime, seemed to enjoy preening and posing for visitors. He seemed to prefer lying front and center in his exhibit where all could get an up-close look at him, which made him one of the most popular animals at the Zoo. Large crowds gathered to witness Orson’s display of amazing jaguar power as he wrestled with a massive bone hung from the roof by his keepers. His muscles rippled as he claimed his prize. People watched in awe and applauded his strength and skill.

Legions of Zoo members made weekly pilgrimages to visit Orson. Numerous guests would arrive at the Zoo entrance and ask for him, either because they had been urged to be sure to see him by a friend or because they remembered him, despite many years passing since their last visit. One teenager told Orson’s keeper that seeing the powerful black cat was a “life-changing experience.” Another visitor wrote about him, “I have seen you lounging before an adoring crowd, have heard your roars, and have watched you enjoy finding and eating a tasty rabbit…and you were magnificent in each situation.” A visit with Orson had an impact on many people’s respect for jaguars and all big cats.

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