45-year-old Asian elephant Devi is euthanized at San Diego Zoo

Devi the Asian elephant had lived at the zoo since 1977.
(San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance )

A 45-year-old Asian elephant named Devi who had lived at the San Diego Zoo since 1977 was euthanized Thursday after zoo officials said her health had declined.

“Devi was beloved at the San Diego Zoo and she will be sorely missed by all of us who cared for her on a daily basis,” Ann Alfama, a wildlife care supervisor at the zoo, said in a statement. “We find some comfort in knowing that she leaves an amazing legacy as an ambassador for her species.”

The elephant had received hydrotherapy, physical therapy and stem cell therapy to alleviate age-related ailments but her mobility continued to decline, officials said.

“After monitoring her closely and evaluating quality of life, Devi’s health and care specialists made the difficult decision to compassionately euthanize her,” the zoo said in a statement.


The zoo said Friday it could not make any keepers or veterinary staff available for an interview.

Devi came to the San Diego Zoo from an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka and was raised in the former Children’s Zoo. She was the second oldest elephant at the zoo, which has four remaining elephants. There are eight elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido.

In recent years, Devi had lived at the Elephant Care Center at the Elephant Odyssey habitat along with a 58-year-old Asian elephant named Mary and a 42-year-old African elephant named Shaba. Zoo staff members allowed Mary and Shaba to see Devi and make their goodbyes after Devi died, officials said. “They are showing no behavioral changes,” a zoo spokesperson said.

Elephants are considered highly social animals with extremely complex behaviors, and can show empathy, engage in problem solving and communicate with each other.

In her youth, Devi had suffered a bruised leg that took about three months to heal after she was knocked to the ground by an older, larger Asian elephant higher in the pecking order named Liz.

After the incident, Liz was moved to Marine World Africa USA in Vallejo in 1994 because keepers feared she might seriously injure Devi or other elephants. A keeper at the time described Liz, then 30, as having a personality like a “neighborhood bully who would steal your lunch money” and said she didn’t know how to properly assert her authority toward other elephants after moving into the role of matriarch. Liz did not show any aggression toward animal care staff, officials said.


Keepers said Devi seemed to relish challenging the older elephant’s authority and baiting her by stealing her food or popping her with her trunk. “Devi is like most 17-year-old kids — she knows more than all of the rest of us,” senior trainer Red Thomas said at the time. “She doesn’t know when to say enough.”

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with around 46,000 remaining in the wild, according to a 2018 estimate. It is unclear how long they can live in captivity.

According to a San Diego Zoo fact sheet, Asian elephants can live 60 to 70 years in the wild and the oldest in “managed care” lived about 80 years. But according to the National Zoo’s website, median life expectancy for female Asian elephants is 47 years old.

This is the third time in recent years the zoo has euthanized an older elephant experiencing health issues.

In 2016, Ranchipur, a 50-year-old Asian elephant, was euthanized after he became weak and did not respond to emergency treatment. He had been at the zoo for 35 years. In 2019, the zoo euthanized Tembo, an African bush elephant, after what was said to be a “sudden change” in her condition. She was 48 and had been at the zoo for 36 years.

The zoo announced the loss of Devi on its Instagram account and Facebook page. No notice was posted at the Elephant Odyssey exhibit Friday, but a spokesperson said wildlife care specialists and volunteers would be on hand to answer guest questions if they arise.