Sujatha, an Asian elephant who delighted visitors at the Santa Barbara Zoo for nearly half a century, was euthanized Tuesday night, zoo officials said in a news release.
“The 47-year-old female elephant had been experiencing many challenges related to old age, particularly arthritis and its associated pain,” the zoo said in the release.
The elephant died surrounded by her keepers, veterinary personnel and support staff, the zoo said.
Immediately following her death, the zoo’s other Asian elephant and Sujatha’s lifelong companion, Little Mac, was given access to Sujatha to grieve, the zoo said.
Though Sujatha received treatments including hydrotherapy, physical therapy and pain medication that helped her live comfortably for the last three years, her health had recently begun declining, the zoo said.
“In the last two weeks, she was observed sleeping less, using her trunk to support her weight while walking and showing less interest in regular activities,” the zoo said. Sujatha also began refusing food and medication over the weekend.
“Sujatha began to go downhill rapidly,” Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s director of animal care and health, said in the release. “Though it was a difficult decision, her behavior and condition told us it was time to say goodbye.”
Median life expectancy for Asian elephants in U.S. zoos is 46.9 years, the zoo said, and an Asian elephant is considered geriatric at about age 40.
Sujatha and Little Mac were brought to the Santa Barbara Zoo in July 1972, when each elephant was 1 and a half years old, the zoo said. The two little elephants then stood less than 4 feet high.
Their first home at the zoo was in a former barnyard area that is now the restaurant courtyard, and their first barn was located where the public bathrooms are now.
The elephants’ current space was built in the late 1970s, with improvements added over the years — including a major renovation in 2004 that increased the size of the enclosure and enlarged the pool, the zoo said.
Zoo officials said Little Mac would either remain at the zoo or be moved to another location. But no final decisions will be made until staff and outside elephant experts assess her welfare, according to the release.
The last time Little Mac was transported was during the 2004 renovation, when she and Sujatha were temporarily moved to the Fresno Zoo. “At the very least, Little Mac will remain at the zoo until she is trained to comfortably enter a transport crate for relocation,” the Santa Barbara Zoo said.
“Sujatha and Little Mac have been ambassadors for Asian elephants in Santa Barbara for 46 years,” zoo CEO Rich Block said in the release. “Children who first met them in the 1970s have brought their own children, and some even their grandchildren, to meet these wonderful creatures.”
“We are grateful to Sujatha and Little Mac for how they have enriched all our lives.”