Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

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Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized
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Little Mac (Photo: Rashun Drayton)

Update by Santa Barbara Zoo
September 26, 2019
 

Little Mac, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s 48-year-old Asian elephant, was humanely euthanized last night (Wednesday, September 25) at approximately 7 p.m. She was in her exhibit yard, surrounded by her keepers and other Zoo staff who have cared for her over the years. Her 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 U.C. Davis, where a necropsy will be initiated today (Thursday, September 26). The results will take several weeks to be developed and will contribute to ongoing research into the health and welfare of elephants under human care.

This followed several days of what Zoo officials called hospice care for the elderly elephant who arrived at the Zoo from India in 1972 with her companion Sujatha (pronounced sue-JAW-tha), who died in October 2018.

This decision 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. 

“She faced chronic challenges with her teeth and arthritis in her legs, but her overall condition began declining in June due to the onset of additional medical problems. She continued to decline in spite of our best efforts, especially in the past two weeks,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the 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.”

(Photo: Fritz Olenberger)

End of Zoo’s Elephant Program

Little Mac’s passing marks the end of the Zoo’s Elephant Program, which spanned 47 years. The pair of one-and-a-half-year-old elephants came to the Santa Barbara Zoo from the city of Mysore, India, in exchange for six California sea lions. The two lived together at the Zoo their entire lives. Neither ever bred or produced offspring.

Current standards for elephant management set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) focus on having bigger herds with breeding bulls, and larger exhibits, neither of which are possible at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The Zoo program was “grandfathered in” as the exhibit was especially designed for the two female elephants, and had been modified many times since 2004 to address the challenges the animals faced as they aged.

No plans have been made for future occupants of this exhibit.

 

Behavioral Study, Expert Consultations for Little Mac

“Since Sujatha passed away last fall, Little Mac hadn’t shown signs of depression or any other concerning behaviors. In fact, she had been doing quite well, despite being a singly-housed elephant,” says Dr. Barnes.

Data gathered during a behavioral study which began in November 2018 supports what keepers had observed since Sujatha passed away: that Little Mac was showing increased engagement with her environment, even when faced with changes in her routine and that environment.

“Following a bout with colic in June, both the study and keeper observations showed that the regular patterns of high level of engagement were being replaced with more ups and downs in her behaviors,” adds Dr. Barnes. “She would improve physically and behaviorally, we would be hopeful, but she never fully recovered.”

Early last week, keepers noticed a change in the color of Little Mac’s boli (dung). Tests indicated that there was bleeding in her intestines. The Zoo consulted about her diagnostics, treatment options and prognosis with well-respected elephant veterinarians Dr. Dennis Schmitt and Dr. Ellen Weidner, several veterinarians from San Diego Zoo Global, and local equine veterinarians. No diagnosis was reached.

After exhausting treatment options, Little Mac began receiving hospice care. Animal care staff treated her symptoms, provided her with drugs to keep her as comfortable as possible, and offered her usual training and activities.

About Sujatha & Little Mac; Little Mac Got Her Name

Sujatha was born to a working mother in an Indian logging camp, and Little Mac was discovered nearby in the forest, apparently orphaned. Herb Peterson, owner of several Santa Barbara McDonald’s restaurants paid for the two elephants’ trip airplane from India, and received naming rights for one of them. McDonald’s newest product was a burger called a “Big Mac,” so Peterson chose “Little Mac” for then four-foot-tall pachyderm.

It is believed that malnutrition as a calf in India contributed to Little Mac’s lifelong dental issues, which resulted in two dental procedures costing $100,000, and the eventual loss of all her upper teeth. For the past few years, her food had to be pre-chopped to help her with digestion.

She has been the Zoo’s sole Asian elephant following the death of Sujatha who was humanely euthanized at age 47 on October 16, 2018, due to ailments related to old age.

An Asian elephant is considered geriatric around age 40. At 48, Little Mac exceeded the median life expectancy for Asian elephants in human care, which is 46.9 years. That means that half the animals live less than 46.9 years, and half live longer.

“Had Little Mac’s health not declined, we may have been looking at moving her to another AZA-accredited facility or an elephant sanctuary,” added Dr. Barnes. “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.”

Remembering Little Mac & Sujatha; Grief Resources

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. This includes a session with Zoo staff and a blog posting on the Zoo’s website about bereavement (www.sbzoo.org/loss) of loved ones and even pets and Zoo animals.  

Donations in memory of Little Mac and Sujatha can be made to the International Elephant Foundation (www.elephantconservation.org) 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 (www.sbzoo.org/support/browse).


Santa Barbara Zoo Elephant in Hospice Care

Source: Santa Barbara Zoo
September 24, 2019
 

Little Mac, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s 48-year-old Asian elephant, now receives what zoo officials call hospice care following a sharp decline in her physical condition over the past two weeks.

She has suffered from intermittent gastrointestinal issues since a bout of colic in mid-June, and has lost weight. She has exhibited lowered activity levels, less engagement with training, and a loss of appetite. Last week, tests detected blood in Little Mac’s boli (dung), which she is being treated for. She also receives treatments for several ongoing medical conditions common in geriatric elephants, such as chronic arthritis.

After exhausting treatment options, she is being kept comfortable for as long as possible. Little Mac’s hospice care includes treating her symptoms, providing her with drugs to increase her comfort, and engaging her with her usual training, if she chooses.

“Just as with a beloved family member, we needed to take time to explore all options and make the best possible decision,” said Zoo President/CEO Rich Block. “This is certainly not the outcome we had hoped for or have worked toward. It is time to start considering euthanasia as a compassionate and respectful option for her. We’ve gone public about this to allow all of us to begin to cope with her passing.”

The Zoo has asked VNA Health (formerly Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) to provide guidance for Zoo staff and guests in dealing with anticipatory grief, similar to that experienced by families with a loved one in hospice care. This includes a session with Zoo staff and a blog posting on the Zoo’s website about bereavement (www.sbzoo.org/loss) of loved ones and even pets and Zoo animals.

Donations in Little Mac’s memory can be made to the International Elephant Foundation (www.elephantconservation.org) or to the Zoo’s Toys4Animals Amazon Wish List. Gifts of organic, pesticide-free tree trimmings and branches are also welcome (www.sbzoo.org/support/browse).

Little Mac’s Recent History

Little Mac has lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo since 1972. She has been the Zoo’s sole Asian elephant following the death of her companion, a 47-year-old Asian elephant named Sujatha (pronounced sue-JAW- tha), on October 16, 2018.

An Asian elephant is considered geriatric around age 40. At 48, Little Mac has exceeded the median life expectancy for Asian elephants in human care, which is 46.9 years. That means that half the animals live less than 46.9 years, and half live longer.

A behavioral study was recently conducted to help determine Little Mac’s future. Her options included to remain at her Zoo home of 46 years with keepers and an environment she knew, or to be moved to a different facility or sanctuary to be introduced to other Asian elephants.

“Little Mac initially was doing very well and showing good behavioral indicators of coping well with being on her own,” says Dr. Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s director of animal care and health. “Unfortunately, we have been grappling with increasing medical problems that affect her health, behavior, and overall well- being. We held out hope that she would bounce back, but her ‘bad days’ now greatly outnumber her ‘good days.’”

Early last week, keepers noticed a change in the color of Little Mac’s boli (dung). Tests suggest that there is bleeding in her intestines, which she is being treated for. Other zoo veterinarians experienced in geriatric elephant care and equine specialists have been consulted, but no diagnosis has been determined.

Elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Little Mac arrived at the Zoo in 1972 at the age of 11⁄2 years with her companion Sujatha and the Zoo’s elephant exhibit was especially designed for the two female elephants. It has been modified many times since 2004 to address the challenges of the elephants’ advanced ages. The two lived together at the Zoo

virtually their entire lives. Neither of the two ever bred or produced offspring.
In the nearly 50 years since Little Mac and Sujatha arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo, standards for elephant management were developed and have been adapted by

the AZA. The current needs of the AZA elephant program focus on having bigger herds with breeding bulls, and larger exhibits.

Since that new focus was adopted, the Zoo was “grandfathered in” by AZA for the two elephants and their exhibit. But the Zoo doesn’t have space to expand the elephant exhibit to meet AZA’s current requirements, or to hold a bull elephant.

“We are looking ahead at a time of change. Nothing has been decided, but new animals will be coming to the Zoo,” adds Block. “We will keep the public informed as this process takes shape.”

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biguglystick Sep 27, 2019 10:16 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

To everyone who is commenting about how they hate zoos, can you please donate to save habitat in the wild, especially in Africa? Here are some good organizations to donate to: The Jane Goodall Institute, International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW), Defenders of Wildlife, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Walking For Lions, Lion Aid. Thank you. Every dollar counts.

Voran Sep 27, 2019 09:09 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Actually, both elephants were temporarily moved to another CA zoo while the exhibit was under construction a few years ago. All captive elephants that have been in "free contact" have experienced negative reinforcement, just as these animals did. Overall, care was good, though high keeper turnover is stressful to elephants. Remember, no wild animal is "free", they are all restricted by visible and invisible barriers. Not only geographic, but inter- and intra-specific factors, food and water, etc. The concept of freedom is anthropomorphic.

biguglystick Sep 27, 2019 10:05 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

"Anthropomorphic".... such a misused word. Animals DO have feelings. They DO feel pain, fear, love, joy, playfulness... especially elephants, they mourn and grieve, they have highly social family structures. They have been known to remember things for years and years... it's not a bad thing for people to "anthropormophize" animals. Just because they don't share the human language with us is no reason for us to cage them, use them for entertainment, abuse them and slaughter them as we do. Time for humans to EVOLVE.

a-1571480422 Sep 27, 2019 08:09 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Did people not read the beginning of this article? Little Mac was saved after his parents were killed and Sujatha's mother was being forced to carry logs for humans. The essence of their being brought to SB was to save them. Was there live in a Zoo better than a life in a pristine forest? Probably not. But there's no doubt they received tremendously great care over their life's and were ABSOLUTELY happy most of the time. We're all confined to limitations in this world and it's not always perfect, but the alternatives of a planet under destruction are a much worse option.

BullseyeB Sep 27, 2019 07:44 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

My hope is that Little Mac and Sujatha are reunited with their herds and enjoying their time together. Rest In Peace, Sujatha and Little Mac. I love Fritz’ photo of Little Mac today. She was a beauty.

PitMix Sep 26, 2019 11:39 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

“Had Little Mac’s health not declined, we may have been looking at moving her to another AZA-accredited facility or an elephant sanctuary,” added Dr. Barnes. “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.” Wish they had done this.

Roger Sep 25, 2019 02:23 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Did someone have a problem with my comment? I don't believe in zoo's funny how zoo keepers don't mind locking up animals but they don't like being locked up themselves kinda ironic really.

a-1571480422 Sep 25, 2019 01:00 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

For all you jaded hearts out there about zoos, I urge you to reconsider by visiting the safari zoo in san diego near escondido. It is beautiful and the animals get to roam around very big areas (acres) - not small pens. They are helping to preserve many african species.

PitMix Sep 26, 2019 08:41 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Preserve to what end? If their wild habitat disappears, will we just warehouse them for our enjoyment? Can the predators ever be returned to the wild to live normal lives? I saw a documentary about wild dogs in South Africa that were returned to a sanctuary and they struggled to hunt for themselves.

a-1571480422 Sep 25, 2019 05:13 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

A-1569456707 4 3 SEP 25, 2019 01:00 PM -----You couldn't be more wrong. Please read: https://www.adaptt.org/animal-rights/whats-wrong-with-zoos.html

sbandto Sep 25, 2019 11:36 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

I remember their arrival at the zoo! The keepers have cared for them for so many years. It is heart-breaking to lose this beloved animal, especially so soon after Sujatha's death, but Little Mac is also geriatric and probably her own griefing of losing her life-long friend contributed to her decline. For the keepers, I imagine it's like losing a family member. Thank you for taking such care of these gentle giants for so many years. This article is nicely written and I'm glad to know there are options being provided for those who are grieving.

Longing2bhome Sep 27, 2019 08:51 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

I remember visiting the elephants. They were so beautiful. The pictures in this article show her sweet personality. Sad to hear she passed.

greytfull Sep 25, 2019 08:26 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Hasn't the Santa Barbara Zoo lost several animals in recent years? What does it take? In this age of extremely high def images available on every smart phone, pad, computer, and high res tv, we don't need to confine animals in restricted places for humanity's entertainment. It's prison for animals. That precious animal should be in the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. https://www.elephants.com

a-1571480422 Sep 25, 2019 05:15 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

"enrichment toy." Really. That says it all. How pathetic that animals locked up for life are thought to somehow be made happier by "enrichment toys." Heartbreaking.

PitMix Sep 25, 2019 03:34 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Bug Girl, I was with you up until the end when you supposed that the trip to the sanctuary would have killed Lil Mac anyway. I'm pretty sure that we are advanced enough to transport an elephant in good health to another location. There is a nice documentary about people in Thailand transporting an older elephant to their sanctuary in the back of a truck and that elephant is thriving. It would have been tragic if Lil Mac had died during transport, but not any more tragic than what is happening to her now.

Bug Girl Sep 25, 2019 02:13 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

If you're referring to the snow leopards, the female died of either a heart attack or stroke at the age of 15, and the male, which was the oldest living snow leopard in the world, died just shy of his 22nd birthday. Both were quite old, and lived far longer than they do in the wild (I have misgivings about big cats in zoos too, believe me! But these two didn't die from poachers or from poor handling by zookeepers, they were very well cared for). If you're referring to the unfortunate accident of the young gibbon, that truly was a terrible freak accident. That was an enrichment toy that had been in the enclosure for quite some time, and the poor little guy got entangled. The other elephant was euthanized as a mercy to her poor condition and pain. Do you wish for them to suffer? Also, had they decided to move Little Mac when Sujatha passed away, it is likely that the shock of transporting her all the way to Tennessee would have made her die even sooner.

Bug Girl Sep 25, 2019 07:37 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

I was greatly saddened to read of Sujatha's passing, and had hoped that Little Mac would be able to have a much longer, full, happy life without her friend. Sujatha and Little Mac were paired together when they were one year old, one was 'found' (read: stolen from her herd) and one was the offspring of a Logging Camp working elephant, and thus was taken as soon as she weaned. They were traded to the SB zoo for a gaggle of sea lions, how quaint is that sort of exchange? They have been treated with as much care as our little zoo could give them, but now the end of an era approaches. Just as so many married couples (or very long term companions) tend to pass away within a year of one another, so too it seems that the incredibly intelligent, empathetic, and wonderful elephant appears to do so too. I hope they are able to keep her comfortable and happy in her final days. Li'l Mac, Sujatha, you've delighted countless thousands of humans with your presence, and inspired many into more awareness of elephant habitat loss, zoo enclosure design, and most importantly, the morality of imprisoning sentient, beautiful creatures.

Luvaduck Sep 25, 2019 11:45 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

I've heard it said that "the price of love is loss"--loved ones eventually separate, whether by death, estrangement, or physical distance. Each of us determines whether it's worth the risk and it's obvious what the majority of us decide.

biguglystick Sep 27, 2019 10:10 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Humans ruin EVERYTHING! Too damned many of us! Habitat loss is the number one threat to wildlife. We need birth control for ALL.

biguglystick Sep 27, 2019 10:10 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Humans ruin EVERYTHING! Too damned many of us! Habitat loss is the number one threat to wildlife. We need birth control for ALL.

Giggles Sep 24, 2019 11:41 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Wait. I don't think my post posted under the right comment. I don't normally comment anymore but I was responding to the person who was recalling when the lion would pee on people.

holothuroid Sep 24, 2019 08:45 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Living in a zoo is certainly a lower quality of life than the wild. Yet many people gain much more appreciation for animals by going to zoos, and many individual animals in the wild and elsewhere do not live long or high quality lives. The species as a whole benefits from some individuals living in zoos, because of the massive influence of humans on their fate. Given the high dedication of most zoos to their animals, I think they are a net benefit to the world, helping keep these species in the shrinking human attention span. I hope SB zoo gets more elephants.

a-1571480422 Sep 25, 2019 05:18 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

It's an complete myth that "people gain much more appreciation for animals by going to zoos." What zoos teach it that it's okay to imprison hapless creatures. Studies have been done wherein zoo attendees were asked what they learned about the animals from a zoo visit. Replies went much like this: "The gorilla was very hairy" and "Monkeys jump around a lot."

PitMix Sep 25, 2019 09:04 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

SB zoo does not meet current standards for elephant care and so will not get any more of them. Studies have shown that zoos do not significantly increase the public support for conservation efforts. We have plenty of zoos, but each year wildlife habitat decreases and more species become threatened. Plus if you raise an animal in captivity it is very difficult for them to learn what they need to know to be returned to the wild. It's difficult to see a way out of this mess given our current massive human population.

a-1571480422 Sep 24, 2019 08:14 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Yes, please no more elephants or large animals that need space to roam. It is so sad that I haven't been to the zoo in years. Remember the lion who used to piss on people?

a-1571480422 Oct 01, 2019 03:43 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Yes! I was on a field trip with first-graders and one of the girls in my group got peed on. She enjoyed a certain amount of "status" for the rest of the day, because the other kids thought it was so cool to have been peed on by the lion!

Longing2bhome Sep 25, 2019 08:55 AM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Yes! So funny the signs warned of it and people ignored. Then the lion reminded them of the sign. I was in the background watching. So funny every time.

a-1571480422 Sep 24, 2019 08:54 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

Or any animals in captivity-----at all. All zoos do is teach children (and apparently a whole lot of adults) that it is OKAY to incarcerate animals. No animal deserves to be kept caged . . . no matter how large the cage.

a-1571480422 Sep 24, 2019 06:36 PM
Zoo Elephant Little Mac Humanely Euthanized

It would have been traumatic for this animal at age 48 to be moved across the country, especially after losing his companion. As ill equipped as it is, this zoo is the only home he as ever known. I know the keepers care deeply for this elephant and have only sought what is best for him. I can only hope the in the future no more elephants, giraffes or big cats come to Santa Barbara. It is just too small.

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