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World's Oldest Tigress Passes Away

"You continue to live in our hearts ... and always will."

One of the world's oldest wild tigresses has died, India's Ranthambore National Park confirmed on Facebook.

At around 20 years old, Machli was the grand dame of the park and a favorite of park visitors. Also known as the "lady of the lake," as she was often seen near water, she received her name, which means fish, because of the distinctive fish-like marking on one of her cheeks.

Wild tigers usually live up to 15 years, and her health had been declining in recent weeks. She had already lost most of her teeth, and the use of one eye. Just a few days ago, a video emerged showing Machli lying on the ground in the park, apparently in discomfort and struggling to stand.

She passed away on Thursday.

Ranthambore describes her as "the most famed in India." In her heyday, Machli was known for her strength and grace, and was even filmed taking down a 14-foot crocodile. She had her own Facebook page, was featured on a commemorative stamp and was awarded a lifetime achievement award for her extensive contributions to the Indian economy and conservation.

But her most important legacy lives on. While her death is a significant loss to the wild population - there are under 4,000 tigers left in the wild, compared to the 5,000 trapped in zoos and as personal pets in the U.S. alone - Machli gave birth to 11 cubs during her lifetime, and it's believed that 60 percent of the park's tigers can trace their lineage to her.

"Her bloodline reigns supreme in valleys & glades of the park," Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of the state of Rajasthan, wrote on Twitter.

She also was known to be a fierce and protective mother.

"Machali became popular due to its muscular strength and was always being noticed for saving her cubs from other animals and male tigers," Ranthambore writes. "It is so interesting to learn that the male tigers really got afraid of her and ... they use[d] to run away from her and her cubs."

Unfortunately, the so-called Queen of Ranthambore's time finally came, sparking a wave of mourning among her international well-wishers.

Ranthambore shared photos of the tigress' body wreathed in flowers and a shroud, taken before she was placed on a ceremonial pyre, along with a simple message.

"You continue to live in our hearts ... and always will!" Ranthambore said.