BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. -

Brevard Zoo staff are mourning Basil, a 4½-year-old female cheetah they had to euthanize last week after the animal suffered a sudden onset of pancreatitis.

“It’s always difficult to lose a member of the Brevard Zoo family, but we did not want her to suffer unnecessarily,” Michelle Smurl, director of animal and conservation programs, said in a prepared statement. “She had a great relationship with the keepers and a good life at the zoo. We will miss her.”

Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports Basil arrived at Brevard Zoo in February of 2010 from White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee. She was transferred to Brevard Zoo as part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Program recommendation, along with her sister, Pepper, and an unrelated older female.

The three cheetahs arrived for the opening of the Expedition Africa cheetah exhibit, next to the rhinoceros yard.

But last week, zoo keepers noticed a change in Basil’s behavior. A follow-up surgical exam found the cheetah was suffering from pancreatitis. After she did not respond to medication, and exploratory surgery revealed a severely damaged pancreas, zoo officials decided to euthanize the animal.

A pathogen has been ruled out, Smurl said. The zoo gives its cheetahs a meat diet that other facilities feed cheetahs.

“The other cheetahs have not shown any signs of this,” Trevor Zachariah, the zoo’s director of veterinary program told Florida Today. “So it’s doubtful that it’s the food or water.”

Tissue tests may show what triggered the disease, zoo officials said.

“We just want to determine if there’s some factor here that’s not obvious to us,” Smurl said, adding that the cause may be genetic.

Cheetahs have been kept in captivity for more than 5,000 years. The captive population suffers from a lack of genetic diversity, which makes them susceptible to disease.

Zookeepers are keeping a close watch on Pepper. The two have never been separated. The staff say Pepper seems more subdued but is eating her normal diet. The third cheetah, Peggy, also seems to be doing well.

In June 2011, the zoo euthanized Sasha, a 15-year-old cheetah in declining health.

But Basil’s sudden death stunned zoo staff.

“We’ve done really well with cheetah,” Smurl said. “It was sudden. It’s tough for us to lose an animal. It was a tough loss for everybody.”