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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 2:38 am | Fair and Breezy 54º


Beloved Asian Elephant Sujatha Dies at Santa Barbara Zoo

Long-ailing animal was euthanized Tuesday night after she began to refuse her food and medications

Sujatha, one of two beloved Asian elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo Click to view larger
Sujatha, one of two beloved Asian elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo, was euthanized Tuesday night after she began refusing food and medication. She had been ailing for several years. (Santa Barbara Zoo photo)

Sujatha, one of two beloved Asian elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo, has died.

She was euthanized Tuesday night in the upper yard of her exhibit and died surrounded by her keepers, veterinary personnel and support staff.

She was 47; the median lifespan of Asian elephants in U.S. zoos is estimated at 46.9, zoo officials said in a news release.

Sujatha’s species is considered geriatric around age 40, according to zoo officials.

“Suzi is her nickname, and she had been experiencing degenerative joint disease for the last few years,” Julie Barnes, the zoo’s director of animal care and health, told Noozhawk. “It was a difficult decision for staff to make, but the right decision for Suzi because things were not going to improve for her.”

Immediately after Sujatha’s death, the zoo’s other Asian elephant, Little Mac, was given access to grieve her lifelong companion.

The female elephant had recently endured a decline in health, and had been experiencing many age-associated challenges, particularly arthritis and its related pain, Barnes said. 

Barnes said Sujatha was able to live comfortably for three years with the aid of treatments with stem cells therapy, laser therapy, hydrotherapy therapy, physical therapy and pain medication.

Sujatha’s keepers closely monitored her and staff performed regular quality-of-life assessments. 

“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 in the release. “She began to refuse food and her medications over the weekend, with subsequent weight loss.”

A necropsy is being performed, and Sujatha’s body was removed by crane to a truck for transport to the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino, which is run by UC Davis. 

“Anyone who met her fell in love with her,” Barnes said of Sujatha.

Sujatha and Little Mac arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in July 1972, when both elephants were 1 1/2 years old. At the time, they stood less than 4 feet high.

The zoo received the pair from Mysore, India, in exchange for six California sea lions, the zoo said.

Little Mac could remain living at the zoo or be moved, depending on the results of welfare assessments by staff and outside elephant experts. No decision will be made until assessments are finished. 

“At the very least, Little Mac will remain at the zoo until she is trained to comfortably enter a transport crate for relocation to join a herd elsewhere,” the zoo said. 

Little Mac and Sujatha were last transported and both were temporarily housed at the Fresno Zoo during their exhibit’s 2004 renovation. 

The elephants’ first home at the Santa Barbara Zoo was in a former barnyard area that is now the restaurant courtyard, the zoo said. Their first barn was located where the public restrooms are. 

The current exhibit was constructed in the late-1970s, and the height of the barn was raised as the mammals grew to maturity. 

Various exhibit improvements were made over the years like a major renovation in 2004 that increased the animals’ space, enlarged the pool and improved sight lines for guest viewing. 

“Sujatha and Little Mac have been ambassadors for Asian elephants in Santa Barbara for 46 years,” zoo CEO Rich Block said in the news 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,” he continued.

The public can make a gift in Sujatha’s memory either to the International Elephant Foundation or the zoo’s “Greens and Trimmings” fund at www.sbzoo/sujatha

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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