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New Orleans’ oldest elephant dies, age 55

March 7, 2019
FILE - In a Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 file photo, Joe Forys, curator of large mammals at the Audubon Zoo, looks at birthday cake smeared on the mouth of Panya the elephant, who ate the cake and melons as part of the Audubon Zoo's celebration of her 50th birthday in New Orleans. The Audubon Zoo says the 55-year-old female named Panya was euthanized Thursday, March 7, 2019 because irreversible kidney disease was hurting her quality of life. She was an endangered Asian elephant, and had lived at the zoo for 39 years. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans’ oldest elephant has died.

Panya, a 55-year-old female, was euthanized Thursday because irreversible kidney disease was hurting her quality of life, Audubon Zoo spokeswoman Annie Kinler Matherne said. She was an endangered Asian elephant, and had lived at the zoo for 39 years.

Captive Asian elephants generally live into their mid-40s, Matherne said in an email.

Panya had been brought under hospice care in the last stages of her illness, a news release said.

“Panya served as an ambassador for her species, educating millions of people about the plight of elephants in the wild,” the news release said. “Over the last 75 years, the population of Asian elephants is estimated to have declined by 50 percent or more ... Within three generations, Asian elephants could disappear from the wild if action is not taken.”

The zoo has three other Asian elephants, also females. Forty-six-year-old Jean was Panya’s longtime companion — she arrived at the zoo in 1978 and Panya in 1980. Sarupa, 36, and Jothi, 37, came to Audubon in November from the Buffalo Zoo .

For decades, the Audubon Zoo had a small, bare outdoor area for elephants, which got regular before- or after-hours walks around the zoo for exercise and variety. It had been created in the 1930s, and a 2013 list of elephant exhibit spaces among members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums showed it as the smallest of 68 nationwide. It covered about 7,500 square feet (697 sq. meters), Matherne said.

Their current enclosure, which opened in 2016, is more than 4½ times as big and includes shade trees, a wading pool and a swimming pool.

Their barn, which opened in 2013, has padded, heated floors and space for four elephants.

“Audubon has no plans to add additional elephants to the herd at this time,” Matherne’s email said. She said the zoo would want an animal of “a similar age and behavior” to make it more likely it would fit in well with the current herd.

She said outside veterinary experts will perform a necropsy “at a specialized off-site facility to confirm Panya’s cause of death and gather information that will be used to advance elephant healthcare.”