Elderly Asian elephant is euthanized at the National Zoo
Her keepers called her “the queen.”
Her euthanasia was done with drugs, the same kind used to put down a pet, and took place in the elephant barn, out of sight of her compound mates, Bozie, 45, and Shanthi, 44, the zoo said.
She was first sedated at about 8:15 a.m., and after she laid down, the euthanasia drugs were administered. She died around 9:15 a.m., her longtime keeper Marie Galloway said.
Bozie and Shanthi were then permitted to have some time with her body. They were curious but did not dramatically react, the zoo said.
“I feel like it was completely right,” said Galloway, an elephant manager who had been Ambika’s keeper for 33 years. “For me personally, it was similar to when my mother died at 88 … comfortably at home. Ambika went much the same way.”
“The time was right,” she said. “Her discomfort was evident. She appeared to be tired and in pain … She’s a very social elephant. She’s an elephant’s elephant, and a people’s elephant. She loves her interaction. And to see that disappearing …”
“So we gave her a gift of peace from that,” she said. “She was comfortable and relaxed the entire way through.”
Keepers and veterinarians wore masks and gloves.
“We brought her into one of the stalls where we planned to do it,” Galloway said.
“She was eating bok choy the whole time and a little bit of celery, and we used that to keep her in place,” she said. “It was just the right spot for her to go down without hitting walls.”
Ambika often slept standing up. And when she was given the initial sedation, “we expected that she would try very hard to stay in a standing position,” Galloway said.
“She set her legs and pressed her head against the bollards in front of her,” she said. “You could see her just wanting to lay down … a little tremor went through her body and she just gave in to the wish to lay down, and went down.”
Blood samples were taken, and the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Don Neiffer, gave the euthanasia drugs.
“Once that stuff is given, the vets confirm that she indeed has passed,” said senior curator and elephant specialist Bryan Amaral.
“We look for breaths and of course we look for heartbeat,” he said. “At that point everybody can have a few quiet moments with her.”
Galloway said: “It went as well as it possibly could,” she said. “She was surrounded by her whole team of keepers.”