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Two elephants euthanized at San Diego Zoo

January 6, 2012 |  9:22 am


Two ailing and aged elephants at the San Diego Zoo had to be euthanized this week, zoo officials announced Friday.

The two Asian elephants were suffering and their chances for recovery were virtually nil, officials said.

Cha Cha, estimated to be 43 years old, was euthanized Wednesday. To allow other elephants to see her a final time, her lifeless body was lifted on a forklift and taken to where other elephants in the Elephant Odyssey exhibit are kept.

Cookie, estimated to be 56, was euthanized Friday morning. There was no connection between the decline of Cookie and Cha Cha, officials said.

Both elephants for decades were at the zoo’s Wild Animal Park -- now called the Safari Park -- before being moved to the zoo in 2009. Before such performances were halted, both were stars in the elephant shows at the Wild Animal Park.

Cha Cha, the smallest elephant at Elephant Odyssey, was often seen in the company of Ranchipur, the 12,000-pound dominant male.

Elephant keepers performed an emergency procedure on Cha Cha on Christmas Day after noting that she was having trouble eating and drinking. A large mass of food blocking her esophagus was removed. But within two days, she began to rapidly decline.

Cookie had been in distress for months with a variety of geriatric problems and had begun to drag her back legs. She was given large doses of pain medication but zoo specialists concluded that her condition was irreversible.

Elephant Odyssey, one of the more popular exhibits at the zoo, was closed temporarily but was reopened Friday. But elephant keeper interactions with the public have been cancelled to provide time for them to mourn, officials said.

Cha Cha arrived at the Wild Animal Park in 1971, Cookie in 1981. Their deaths come just weeks after Umoya, 21, an African elephant at the Safari Park, was killed in an attack by another elephant.

The zoo now has five elephants at Elephant Odyssey and 17 at the Safari Park.  The zoo elephants are older than the elephants at the Safari Park and need more attention from the zoo’s elephant care center, officials said.


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Cha Cha the elephant. Credit: San Diego Zoo