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72-year-old elephant, gifted to U.S. by India, euthanised at Washington zoo

Ambika was captured in the Coorg forest when she was about 8 years old and given to the zoo as a gift from the children of India in 1961.

Ambika, a 72-year-old elephant which was gifted to the U.S. in 1961 on behalf of children of India, was “humanely euthanised” by veterinarians at a national zoo in Washington, officials said on Saturday.

Estimated to be the third oldest Asian elephant in the North American population, Ambika was euthanised at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

“Ambika truly was a giant among our conservation community,” said Steven Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

In a statement, the zoo said Ambika, the beloved eldest member of its Asian elephant herd, was humanely euthanised on Friday, following a recent and irreversible decline in her health.

 

Born in India around 1948, Ambika was captured in the Coorg forest when she was about 8 years old. She worked as a logging elephant until 1961, when she was given to the zoo as a gift from the children of India, the zoo said in a statement.

“Elephant keepers have fondly reflected on Ambika’s sense of humour, particularly during mealtimes, when the persnickety eater would arrange her grains to her liking before eating,”it said.

“For the past five decades, Ambika served as both an ambassador and a pioneer for her species. It is not an exaggeration to say that much of what scientists know about Asian elephant biology, behaviour, reproduction and ecology is thanks to Ambika’s participation in our conservation-research studies, Monfort said.

 

According to zoo authorities, Ambika had undergone treatment for osteoarthritis, a condition that first developed when she was in her late 60s. Although the condition is incurable, animal care staff took steps to ease Ambika’s pain and help slow the progression of her disease.

“Veterinarians prescribed anti-inflammatories, analgesic medications and various joint supplements, the zoo said.

Last week, keepers noticed that Ambika’s right-front leg developed a curve that weakened her ability to stand.

Though she had some good days and some bad days, staff grew concerned when she chose not to explore her habitat as much as she normally would or engage with her keepers or elephant companions, Shanthi and Bozie, the zoo statement said.

Given Ambika’s extremely old age, decline, physically and socially, and poor long-term prognosis, they felt they had exhausted all treatment options and made the decision to humanely euthanise her, the zoo statement explained.

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