Little Mac, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s 48-year-old Asian elephant, was euthanized Wednesday night in her exhibit yard, surrounded by her keepers. She’d been receiving hospice care over the last week following a bout of colic in June that she never fully recovered from. Little Mac’s body was removed by crane to a truck and taken to the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino, which is run by UC Davis, where the necropsy will be performed.
The decision to euthanize “was made due to her declining condition as a result of her ongoing medical issues, some of which were common in geriatric elephants, and some new medical problems that had developed since June,” the S.B. Zoo said in a statement. Early last week, keepers noticed a change in the color of Little Mac’s dung. Tests indicated there was bleeding in her intestines. The S.B. Zoo consulted with well-respected elephant veterinarians Dr. Dennis Schmitt in Missouri and Dr. Ellen Weidner in Florida, several veterinarians from San Diego Zoo Global, and local equine veterinarians about her treatment options and prognosis. But no diagnosis was reached.
“She continued to decline in spite of our best efforts,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the S.B. Zoo’s vice president of animal care and health. “We had exhausted the medical options available that would allow her to have a good quality of life. It was time to let her go.”
Little Mac came to the Santa Barbara Zoo with her lifelong companion, Sujatha, in 1972. Sujatha died last October. “Since Sujatha passed away last fall, Little Mac hadn’t shown signs of depression or any other concerning behaviors,” said Barnes. “In fact, she had been doing quite well, despite being a singly housed elephant.” Data gathered during a behavioral study that began in November 2018 supported keepers’ observations, Barnes said. “Had Little Mac’s health not declined, we may have been looking at moving her to another AZA-accredited facility or an elephant sanctuary,” she said. “The behavioral study suggested that she likely had the ability to cope with the changes associated with such a move and with being introduced to other elephants.”
Mac’s passing marks the end of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s elephant program. New exhibit size and care requirements adopted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ― including bigger herds with breeding bulls ― have rendered its facilities inadequate. “No plans have been made for future occupants of the exhibit,” the Zoo said.
The Zoo has partnered with VNA Health (formerly Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) to provide guidance for Zoo staff and guests in dealing with grief following the loss of both Little Mac and Sujatha. Donations in memory of Little Mac and Sujatha can be made to the International Elephant Foundation or to the Zoo’s Toys4Animals Amazon Wish List. Gifts of organic, pesticide-free tree trimmings and branches for other animals at the Zoo are also welcome.