Surrounded by her care team, Sujatha, one of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s most beloved family members, was humanely euthanized Tuesday night. Sujatha was one of two Asian elephants at the zoo, and leaves behind her companion, Little Mac.
Three years ago, Sujatha’s health started to decline due to arthritis. Although the pain was manageable for a while with treatment, she took a dramatic turn within the past few months. Sujatha was observed unable to hold herself up, sleeping less, losing interest in regular activities, and refusing food, making it clear to keepers that her time at the zoo was coming to a close.
Alongside her companion Little Mac, Sujatha joined the Santa Barbara Zoo in 1972. When the two elephants arrived from India, they were only 1.5-years-old and stood less than four feet tall. Sujatha and Little Mac have been companions ever since. Directly following Sujatha’s passing, Little Mac was given time to grieve by her side. Although Little Mac’s behavior remains unchanged, her care team is closely watching her.
Together, the pair of elephants met and touched Santa Barbara residents for over 46 years. “People have grown up with Sujatha,” said Santa Barbara Zoo CEO, Rich Block. “The thousands of people that were introduced to her were changed by that,” he says. “You cannot be close to something that physically impressive without feeling impacted.”
Block described the important link Sujatha provided between people and the plight of Asian elephants. Within India and Southeast Asia, these animals are under great pressure. Asian elephants are considered endangered by the International Union for Conversation of Nature, their main threat being loss of natural habitat. “Through close interaction, Sujatha made an impact on people, and that connection is important for helping elephants around the world,” Block said.
While Little Mac’s future at the zoo is unclear, Block says there will likely be no more elephants joining the Santa Barbra family. The standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums require elephants to be owned in groups. Block says the only reason Sujatha and Little Mac were able to stay in Santa Barbara is because “they have been together forever.”