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Oakland Zoo announces death of 46-year-old African elephant

Lisa was humanely euthanized March 26 due to irreversible chronic and degenerative health issues. | Oakland Zoo via Bay City News

An elephant at the Oakland Zoo was humanely euthanized Sunday due to worsening, degenerative and irreversible health issues, zoo officials said Monday.

Lisa, a 46-year-old African elephant, had dealt with chronic age-related health issues for several years, according to the zoo, including eye ulcers, degenerative arthritis, foot and nail lesions and a recently developed ventral edema, which caused excessive fluid buildup in her stomach. 

Zoo staff developed a medical care plan for Lisa in an effort to ease the pain of her conditions, including physical therapy, medication, daily foot soaks in Epsom salt and two stem-cell procedures in partnership with veterinarians at Michigan State University. 

Lisa came to the zoo in 1979 and first showed signs of arthritis in 2013. She was one of just 16 female African elephants at least 46 years old known to live in a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

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“Over the years-long course of care and treatments to provide her a good quality of life through multimodal pain control, her disease progressed to a point where we didn’t want her last day to be her worst day, and it was time to do the most humane thing and to let her go,” said Dr. Alex Herman, the zoo’s vice president of veterinary services. “This was the best thing for Lisa, but the most painful and heart-wrenching for all her Zoo family and the Bay Area community that has loved her for decades.”

Zookeepers at the Oakland Zoo recently celebrated Lisa’s 46th birthday with an assortment of treats and piñatas filled with her favorite fruits. 

Her body was transported Sunday evening to the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy. 

“Her loss is felt by so many, especially her closely bonded elephant keepers,” said Colleen Kinzley, the zoo’s vice president of animal care, conservation and research. “We’ll miss her greatly.”

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