Santa Barbara Zoo’s last elephant dies — and it won’t get another one

Little Mac, the last elephant at the Santa Barbara Zoo, has died, marking the end of elephants at the zoo.

The 48-year-old Asian elephant had been put on hospice care for several days and was humanely euthanized Wednesday night, the zoo said in a news release.

Her body was removed by crane and placed on a truck so she could be taken to U.C. Davis’ California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino for a necropsy.

“The results will take several weeks to be developed and will contributed to ongoing research into the health and welfare of elephants under humane care,” the zoo said in a news release.

Little Mac experienced a “sharp decline in her physical condition over the past two weeks,” according to a Tuesday news release from the Santa Barbara Zoo, explaining the decision to put the elephant on hospice care.

The zoo said Little Mac had shown a loss of appetite, lower activity levels and less engagement with training. Tests conducted last week showed blood in her dung, and she was being treated for possible bleeding in her intestines, the zoo said.

Little Mac’s hospice care included treating her symptoms, providing her with drugs to keep her comfortable and engaging her in her usual training if she chooses, the zoo said.

Little Mac also received treatment for several ongoing conditions that are common for geriatric elephants, such as chronic arthritis.

“We had exhausted the medical options available that would allow her to have a good quality of life,” Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s director of animal care and health, said in the Thursday news release. “It was time to let her go.”

The median life expectancy for Asian elephants is 46.9 years, the zoo said, and an Asian elephant is considered geriatric at about age 40.

Little Mac’s lifelong companion, an Asian elephant named Sujatha, died in October at age 47.

“Since Sujatha passed away last fall, Little Mac hadn’t shown signs of depression or any other concerning behaviors. In fact, she had been doing quite well, despite being a singly-housed elephant,”Barnes said. “Following a bout with colic in June, both the study and keeper observations showed that the regular patterns of high level of engagement were being replaced with more ups and downs in her behaviors,”

Little Mac and Sujatha 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.

They lived together at the zoo virtually all of their lives, and neither bred or produced offspring, the zoo said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has adapted standards for elephant management in the years since Sujatha and Little Mac were brought to the Santa Barbara Zoo, and AZA elephant programs now focus on having larger exhibits, bigger herds and breeding bulls, the zoo said.

The Santa Barbara Zoo does not have the space to expand the elephant exhibit or hold a bull elephant to meet the requirements, which means the elephant program will end with Little Mac’s death.

“We are looking ahead at a time of change,” Block said in the release. “Nothing has been decided, but new animals will be coming to the zoo.”

The zoo asks anyone wishing to make a donation in Little Mac’s memory to make those donations to the International Elephant Foundation or the zoo’s Toys 4 Animals Amazon wish list, according to the release.

The zoo also accepts donations of organic, pesticide-free tree trimmings and branches.

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