DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A popular but ailing elephant named Wanda that lived at the Detroit Zoo and several others before being sent to a Northern California wildlife sanctuary has died.
The Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, says the 57-year-old elephant was euthanized Wednesday because of arthritis and foot problems.
Wanda was one of two Asian elephants moved in 2005 to PAWS sanctuary in the Sierra Nevada foothills of San Andreas, California from the Detroit Zoo. The other elephant, named Winky, died in 2008.
PAWS officials say Wanda was captured at a young age in the wild in Asia to be put on display in the United States. She was moved from one location to another at least seven times, including a circus, several zoos in Texas, and then the Detroit Zoo in Michigan.
Wanda and Winky enjoyed creature comforts at PAWS that included dozens of acres of varied natural terrain on which to wander with other elephants, California sunshine, lakes to play in and large living quarters equipped with heated stalls and therapeutic Jacuzzis. Despite the improved conditions that added years and a great quality of life to the elephants, both continued to experience complications from chronic foot problems and severe arthritis.
“We knew this day was coming, but we are all sad,” Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director, said in a statement. “We can never thank the staff at PAWS enough for giving these two lovely beings such excellent care and many great years.”
Both Wanda and Winky had chronic arthritis and foot problems, developed over years of zoo captivity. The pair had been at the Detroit Zoo for about a decade before being moved to the PAWS sanctuary. Winky was euthanized in 2008 at the age of 56 due to complications from severe arthritis.
Arthritis in captive elephants is common and is believed to be a result of living in small areas, often standing on hard, flat floors for long periods of time. In the wild, elephants live in warm climates and roam vast areas, often walking many miles a day.
“While elephants can endure cold temperatures, they are better suited to a mild climate which allows them to be outside, safely roaming over large areas of natural substrate – not ice – all or much of the year,” said Kagan. “Despite expansion of our elephant habitat in 1998, we determined that there was no realistic way to provide an ideal physical space or a natural social environment for Wanda and Winky, especially during Michigan winters.”
The Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in the country to decide solely on ethical grounds to no longer keep elephants. In the years since, more zoos have made the same decision.
“Wanda’s death, while very sad, will hopefully continue the conversation about how zoos can play a significant role in reshaping public attitudes and values toward the humane treatment of animals,” said Kagan. “This is the end of a chapter, but not the end of the story.”