SALT LAKE CITY – (August 8)- A very difficult day for staff of Utah’s Hogle Zoo as they announce the passing of beloved Dari, the oldest African elephant in North America, and long-time Zoo favorite.
Dari came to Hogle Zoo in 1967. Not only did she outlive the average life- expectancy for elephants in the wild, which is 42 years, at 55 1/2 years old, she now holds the record for the longest-lived African elephant in America.
“That’s a testament to her care over generations,” said elephant manager Eric Peterson who worked with and trained Dari for close to 20 years. “It’s not just me taking care of her. It’s the people who worked with her before me. It’s the people who took good care of her in 1967 to get her where she is today. That’s what’s so neat – it’s generations of keepers and veterinarians that loved and took care of her. She touched a lot of lives.”
Hy-Dari, her name affectionately shortened to Dari, served as a beautiful ambassador of her endangered species to millions of Zoo guests – greeting them with her graceful presence and sometimes a bit of sass.
The senior animal received on-going extra attention from animal care and veterinary staff. But over the past several months, Dari’s condition began to decline. In May, Dari was found lying on the ground and Zoo staff brought in a crane to help hoist her. She stood immediately and began eating, but never completely recovered her full strength.
After finding Dari lying on the ground again this morning, animal care staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Dari based on her decline in health, comfort and mobility.
“We’ve been treating Dari for arthritis and other conditions associated with her age,” said senior veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Carpenter. “She was starting to have more bad days than good and didn’t have that fighting spirit. These are always difficult decisions.”
Peterson said “I saw the decline in her. It’s not a quantifiable thing where you can say ‘here are the steps in this process.’ It’s something you learn working with animals that you realize what they’re saying to you; that it’s okay to let go.”
Peterson and elephant staff agree that Dari was a tough elephant to train. “She was a very hard elephant to get close to because she wanted to make sure you were trustworthy. But once you got through her tough exterior, she was very affectionate.”
“She was the only elephant I’ve ever worked with that would seek out affection for no reason,” Peterson said. “If the other two elephants come over they want to know what’s in it for them. But she would just come up and want attention.”
Dari was the matriarch of the Zoo’s herd which still includes 26 year-old Christie and Zuri who turns six this month. The two elephants were allowed grieving time with Dari after she passed and are expected to go through a mourning period of their own.