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R.I.P. Shaunzi. Second elephant in a year dies at L.A. Zoo

An elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo died this week, the second in about a year and just days before a vigil is set to be held by animal activists at the zoo to mourn elephants who have died in captivity.

Shaunzi, a 53-year-old female Asian elephant, was euthanized early Wednesday morning, according to zoo officials.

Around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Shaunzi was seen lying down in the exhibit she shared with the zoo’s other female elephant, Tina, and appeared unable to get up. Zoo veterinarians and care staff evaluated her condition, but efforts to help her were unsuccessful. She was sedated and subsequently put down.

“The decision to euthanize Shaunzi was a consensus decision made by her care team based on several factors including prognosis and welfare,” zoo officials said in an email. “These factors include her age, past medical history, her inability to right herself with supportive efforts to raise her” and other concerns.

“As a result, it was deemed the best for her welfare to let her go,” the statement concluded.

Shaunzi is the second L.A. Zoo elephant to die in about a year after Jewel, a 61-year-old female, was euthanized in January 2023 due to what zoo officials said was her declining quality of life. Asian elephants typically have a lifespan of 60 to 70 years in the wild, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The L.A. Zoo has two Asian elephants remaining: Tina, 58, who arrived at the zoo in 2010, and Billy, a 39-year-old male who has been at the zoo since 1989.

Shaunzi was born in 1970 in Thailand, where she lived for about a year before she was captured and used in circus work in the United States. In 1983, she was given to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where she lived before being transferred to the L.A. Zoo in 2017.

“Shaunzi lived a full life and was an ambassador for her species,” the zoo said in a statement on her passing. “She helped Angelenos learn about her wild counterparts and the challenges they face in their native range.”

Shaunzi’s death comes days before a group of animal welfare activists are set to hold the annual International Candlelight Vigil for Elephants outside the L.A. Zoo. The event is meant to honor the elephants who died in captivity over the last year at zoos and sanctuaries around the world, as well as highlight the host of problems they face compared with elephants in the wild, including medical issues such as arthritis and the bone infection osteomyelitis.

“The lack of space alone is extremely cruel, because their brains and their bodies are meant for walking huge distances,” said Courtney Scott, an elephant consultant for In Defense of Animals, one of the groups behind the event.

The vigil is set to take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday outside the Los Angeles Zoo, at 5333 Zoo Drive. Zoo officials said they were aware of the event but declined to comment further.

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