King George, Zoo Miami's 16-year-old rare king cheetah, has died, the zoo announced Friday.
The big cat had suffered from a variety of health issues over the past year; veterinarians said he ultimately succumbed to the effects of pancreatitis and diabetes.
While cheetahs are famous for their small, circular spots, king cheetahs have stripes and large blotches — the result of a genetic mutation. The zoo said fewer than 100 king cheetahs are believed to remain worldwide.
“It is with profound sadness that Zoo Miami announces the passing of King George ... who for over 15 years inspired audiences from Miami to New York to love and appreciate this majestic, yet incredibly rare carnivore,” zoo spokesman Ron Magill said in a news release.
King George was born Oct. 17, 1998 at the De Wildt Cheetah Center in South Africa and arrived in Miami in May 1999.
The cheetah "instantly became a star with appearances not only at the zoo and local schools, but around the country," the zoo said, citing his appearances with celebrities such as explorer Sir Edmund Hillary and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Zoo Miami is currently home to cheetah brothers Koda and Diesel, who arrived last year from South Africa as part of the Cheetah Ambassadors Program.