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Florida zoo mourns death of third-oldest Asian elephant on record

Mary, right, and Maude are digging into an elephant birthday cake at the annual birthday celebration.

One of the oldest Asian elephants on record has died.

Mary, a 63-year-old elephant, died this week at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Orlando, zoo officials said.

Shonna Green, spokeswoman for the zoo, said Mary died late Tuesday of an age-related illness.

“She was 63 -- which is rather old for an elephant -- but no one dies of old age, so there has to be some kind of complication,” Green said.

A necropsy will be conducted to determine the exact cause of death.

Mary was born in 1946 at the Nehru Zoological Park in India. She came to the U.S. in 1952 as part of a circus. After she was retired from the circus, she was sent to the Dallas Zoo before coming to the Central Florida Zoo in 1983, where she was the matriarch of the group of elephants, despite being smaller than the others. 

Mary was the third-oldest Asian elephant on record at a U.S. zoo accredited by the Assn. of Zoos & Aquariums.

Green said Mary touched many people over the years, and zoo guests had enjoyed the annual birthday celebrations and seeing Mary during weekend demonstrations on elephants that she headlined with another elephant, Maude.


"Mary was a favorite among Central Florida Zoo guests and staff and a great animal," Joe Montisano, chief executive of the zoo, said in a statement. He added that she was "a great ambassador and touched the lives of many people in her years on the planet.  We will miss her."

Mary held a special place in the hearts of her keepers and was known to love having her stomach rubbed and sneaking up on new keepers.

"We're all very saddened by the loss," Green said. "She’s been here since 1983. Many of the employees of the zoo have been here that long, if not longer. Many of them have grown up with Mary."

Donations in her memory are being collected and will be sent to the Elephant Conservation Program to help endangered elephants in the wild. 

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy (Follow me on Twitter @GerrickKennedy)

Photos: At top, Mary, right, and Maude are digging into an elephant birthday cake at the annual birthday celebration. At bottom, Mary. The elephant had been with the zoo since 1983. Credit: Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

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Perhaps being in captivity for so long contributed to her passing. Elephants are matriarchal migratory animals and need to move as well as socialize with other elephants. Males tend to be solitary after a certain age.... In any case, she had a good run.

She lived to be an old, old lady and apparently was deeply loved and cared for. Her keepers/handlers should know they must've done a wonderful job for her to live so happily and for so long.

Time to send the remaining elephant, Maude, to a sanctuary where she'll have the space she needs to roam and can choose her own companions.

Send Maude to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee where she could live with a herd of other Asian elephants and have over 2200 acres of natural habitat to explore. A more normal elephant life is what will help her. Space and freedom. That's what allows elephants to thrive. Hasn't she spent enough time in confinement for our entertainment - like her whole life?

For those claiming that zoos shorten the life of elephants, this is evidence to the contrary. Had Mary stayed in the wild, she would have been dead 20-30 years ago. RIP, Mary.

Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America's Best Zoos


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