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