Zoo mourns loss of Mama, elderly elephant matriarch

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The Dallas Zoo is heartbroken to announce the death of African elephant “Mama” due to age-related health conditions.

Elephants "Mama" was the matriarch of the all female "Golden Girls" herd. She will forever be missed.

Elephant “Mama” was the matriarch of the all female “Golden Girls” herd. She will forever be missed.

At 45, Mama was the oldest of our five-member geriatric female herd. She lived more than seven years past the 38-year median life expectancy for a female African elephant in human care, and was one of the 10 oldest elephants in the United States. She had been undergoing dedicated geriatric health care for many months, including massage, baths, blood tests, medication and heat-lamp treatments. In recent weeks, Mama’s health had declined, and her care evolved to hospice-style efforts designed to keep her comfortable.

“Mama’s longevity and excellent quality of life are a testament to the loving care and expertise of our elephant keepers and veterinary team,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

“This is a difficult day for our staff and the community. We take our responsibility to care for these magnificent animals very seriously,” said Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., the zoo’s vice president of Animal Operations. “We’re heartened that her final years were spent in a social herd in which we saw positive, normal elephant behavior.”

Mama, whose estimated birthdate was January 1970, was often called an “old soul.” This curious mother and grandmother was known for her sweet tooth, favoring sugar cane, and tidy eating habits (she would rake her food into a neat pile and daintily scoop it up). From the time Mama arrived at the Zoo in 2010, zookeepers noticed she was very curious and could be the instigator of mischief. She loved being groomed, especially “pedicures,” getting attention from guests and her keepers, and being vocal with her herd.  She was the matriarch of our “Golden Girls” and received much special care because of her advanced age and conditions resulting from injuries she sustained long before she came to the Dallas Zoo.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in Dec. 2014.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in December 2014.

After Mama died, the other elephants in the herd, Gypsy, Jenny, Congo and Kamba, were given time to say goodbye, during which they gently touched her face with their trunks and trumpeted softly.

The elephant herd’s home, the Giants of the Savanna, was specifically designed for the care of older elephants, as well as younger ones. The habitat can be changed to address the needs of individual animals, such as adding logs and piles of sand for leaning and resting for older animals. The habitat also was designed, with help from elephant expert Dr. Charles Foley, to include migration pathways that allow the herd to walk more than 10 miles per day.

Mama (left) dusts her back with dirt with Kamba nearby in Dec. 2014.

Mama browses for food nearby while Kamba dusts her back with dirt in December 2014.

It’s a very difficult time for our staff, so please keep us in your thoughts. Our keepers, committed to conservation efforts, ask that anyone wishing to honor Mama donate to Dr. Foley’s Tarangire Elephant Project, one of our partners helping elephants in Africa. Information can be found at www.wcstanzania.org/tarangire.htm. Donations may be mailed to Mama Elephant Memorial, c/o Dallas Zoo, 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75203.

Please watch this tribute video we made in honor of Mama.

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Mammals, Veterinary Care | Tags: , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Zoo mourns loss of Mama, elderly elephant matriarch

  1. jim naelitz

    To all the elephant staff at the Dallas Zoo I want to say I am sorry to hear of the passing of Mama. You all do wonderful work and I know how hard it is to say goodbye to an animal you have become so attached to.

  2. So saddened to learn of the passing of Mama. She was such a beautiful and gentle soul indeed. I love the Dallas Zoo partly because of the wonderful caretakers and zookeepers. You do such an amazing job with all animals there. I am sending prayers to all of you as you mourn the loss. I will be keeping the other elephants in prayers as well as they will be missing her for a long time. Bless you for a job well done with her palliative care.

  3. Irene Laverdiere

    As sad as the passing of this gentle being is, we have to remember the beautiful babies that have been recently born at the zoo. Such is the circle of life! Thanks to the wonderful,dedicated zookeepers who made her last days as comfortable as possible. Thanks also for allowing the other elephants who must be feeling the loss,to grieve over her.

  4. I really have enjoyed & do enjoy the Dallas Zoo website. I too am heart broken over the loss of Moma. I feel she too has stepped onto the RAINBOW an will be watching over all. I read that the quality of life was good to Moma there. Keep up the good work Dallas Zoo.

  5. Awww so sad :/

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