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50-year-old elephant, oldest at Oakland Zoo, collapses and dies

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M’Dunda, 50, was the oldest African elephant in captivity in North America.
(Oakland Zoo)

The Oakland Zoo’s oldest elephant, a 50-year-old female named M’Dunda, collapsed and died this week in her enclosure, zookeepers said.

The pachyderm, who was transferred to Oakland from the San Diego Zoo in 1993, was found on the ground Tuesday. Zoo officials immediately cleared the habitat of other elephants so veterinarians could safely provide medical care for the elderly animal.

But when staff arrived — including Joel Parrott, Oakland Zoo’s CEO and a veterinarian — it was too late.

Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild, though typically survive only about 17 years in captivity. M’Dunda had celebrated her 50th birthday in September.

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Zoo staff, including M’Dunda’s six keepers, and the park’s remaining three elephants — Lisa, Donna and Osh — are now mourning the gentle giant’s sudden death, Parrot said.

“M’Dunda has been part of our Oakland Zoo family for 26 years,” he said in a statement. “She was such a gentle being and closely bonded with her keepers. We’ll miss her greatly.”

After arriving at the Oakland Zoo, M’Dunda quickly bonded with zookeepers and fellow elephants, often twirling trunks with Osh, the herd’s lone male.

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“Some elephants will take a swipe at you to reassert their dominance,” Parrott told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Elephants know they’re big, and we never forget they’re big. But M’Dunda never did that,” he said.

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M’Dunda, center, walks with herd mates Lisa and Donna at the Oakland Zoo.
(Steven L. Gotz / Oakland Zoo)

In her daily examinations and treatments, she showed no signs of health problems, zoo officials said. M’Dunda was transported to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy to determine her cause of death.

The Santa Barbara Zoo also recently lost an elderly elephant — and its last. Little Mac, a 48-year-old Asian elephant, had been put in hospice care before being euthanized in late September.

Because of a lack of space to expand their elephant exhibit after changes in AZA standards, the zoo’s elephant program will not continue, Santa Barbara Zoo officials said.


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