updated 12/15/2010 2:11:17 AM ET 2010-12-15T07:11:17

Keepers at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo say they have had to euthanize Marta, the black leopard who was often called "The Queen."

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Zoo officials say Marta's deteriorating kidneys forced them to make the difficult decision to put her down Tuesday.

Marta, who arrived at Lincoln Park as a cub in 1992, was one of the zoo's most popular big cats. Keepers say she was 20 years old, and the average life expectancy for zoo leopards is only 16 years.

Zoo officials tell the Chicago Tribune that black leopards are an endangered species, and Marta was being kept illegally by private owners who had spayed and declawed her before authorities seized her and brought her to Lincoln Park.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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