Sadly, 60-year-old Sunita, the oldest elephant at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, passed away on Wednesday, February 25, 2009. She had lived at the Wild Animal Park since 1974 and had been receiving specialized care because of her advanced age. She will be much missed.
Nita was one of the smartest, most personable elephants around. Everyone loved her. And if for some reason you didn’t, she found a way to win you over. She did all sorts of things to get your attention: give you gifts of dirt or hay, make sounds like she swallowed a lion, or pick up her foot like she was injured. If you ignored all of that, you might receive a blast of water expertly aimed to soak you. But her antics were always in good fun.
One of our favorite Nita quirks was her love of putting objects in her tusk sockets to look like she had longer tusks. We joked that she wanted to be an African elephant. We were always delighted when she removed the “tusk” and handed it to us as a gift. Nita loved being with people, and she regularly preferred our company to food.
At the Wild Animal Park, she charmed our guests in demonstrations and was always willing to show off for people. In her early days here, she played tug-of-war with thousands of wide-eyed school kids. She always won.
If Nita found an object that one of the staff wanted to retrieve from the yard, she knew she could bargain with us for an exchange. She also understood that if she broke it into several pieces, she had more to bargain with and could get several apples instead of just one.
In the past year, we knew that age was finally catching up with Nita. She slowed down a bit, and we even started chopping up her hay so she could chew it better. However, it became evident in the past week that she was really sick. We gave her everything that we could think of: special treats, extra love, attention, and care. But despite our efforts, we had to accept that the best thing for Nita was to let her go and humanely euthanize her.
Nita was an elephant ambassador for her species. She brightened all our lives and those of anyone else fortunate enough to meet her. We all feel lucky to have known her.
The Wild Animal Park Asian Elephant Team