Morena was put down on her 21st birthday. (Courtesy of Tony Duplissis)

Staff at the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton have started to look for a new jaguar to replace the female cat that had to be put down on New Year's Day.

Bruce Dougan, the zoo's general manager, said Morena became suddenly ill on Dec. 30 and her condition deteriorated quickly.

Her death was age-related, he said. Morena was euthanized on her 21st birthday.

Jaguars in captivity typically live up to their late teens or early 20s, about twice the average lifespan of jaguars in the wild, said Dougan.

"Morena lived a very long and healthy life at our zoo," he said.

Still, staff are mourning her loss, said Dougan.

"Since her arrival in 1992, she's been a valued member of our collection and will be greatly missed."

Concerns about brother Azul

Morena, who was nine months old when she arrived at the Moncton zoo from the Oaklawn Farm Zoo in Aylesford, N.S., is survived by her brother, Azul, said Dougan.

Azul is in good health, but staff are concerned about the impact Morena's death will have on him, Dougan said.

"It certainly will have an effect," said Dougan.

"We've had this experience in the past with Tomar [the Siberian tiger, who was put down five years ago after suffering with kidney problems] and [his mate] Pasha," who died in 2004 after eating tainted meat.

"When they lose a mate they suffer a loss. You see that in their behaviour and they get depressed for a period of time," said Dougan.

"Jaguars tend to be solitary animals. I think over some time, [Azul] will get over the loss."

Meanwhile, Dougan said he hopes the zoo will be able to find another jaguar to replace Morena.

Jaguars, which come from Central and South America, are on the endangered list. "They are very rare in this country," he said.

"Canada, in the zoo industry, is very small. There are only 25 accredited institutions across the country and they're not all zoos, some of those are aquariums, and they don't all have jaguars. As a matter of fact, very few of them do, so we've started to look at possibilities of replacing the jaguars."

The big cats are a huge draw at the Magnetic Hill Zoo, said Dougan.

In 2009, the zoo renovated the jaguar exhibit with $250,000 from the Friends of the Zoo. The so-called Jaguar Junction won a national award from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums the following year.

The exhibit enriches the animals' lives by providing a variety of terrain, a view of the fallow deer exhibit and space for food gathering, the association said.

The zoo is also still raising money to replace the Siberian tiger Tomar, said Dougan.