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Popular Animal Ambassador At South Coast Zoo For Nearly Half Century Now Getting Hospice Care

It’s a beautiful, sunny morning at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Some two dozen people, mostly kids, are excited to see one of the zoo’s most famous residents. Little Mac seems normal to the public, as she stands in the sun. But, the 48 year old elephant is facing a number of serious health issues, and is now receiving hospice care.

Rich Block is the Santa Barbara Zoo’s President, and CEO. He says Little Mac first came to the zoo in 1972, at the age of one, with her companion Sujatha. Literally generations of people have grown up with the popular elephants. Sujatha died last October.

Zoo officials were assessing Little Mac to see if it might be best for her to be transferred to another zoo, with other elephants. But, in June, her health suddenly started to decline, making her transfer impossible.  She has arthritis, has lost most of her teeth, and some untreatable gastronintestinal issues.  Her appetite is almost gone.   

Dr. Julie Barnes is the Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Care and Health. Barnes says Little Mac has actually lived a longer than average life for an elephant. Elephants living in zoos live longer than those in the wild, because of the health care they get. The average lifespan of elephants in zoos is just over 46 years.

The zoo’s elephants were more than educational elements in at the zoo. Over the decades, they were a part of a number of research studies which helped us learn more about the animals.

Block says over the decades, the criteria for zoos to house elephants has changed, becoming much more stringent on everything from the size of the living areas to the number considered to be acceptable. The two elephants were grandfathered in all these years, but it’s now the end of an era. They are the last elephants to live at the zoo, and their habitat will be redeveloped for other animals.

Block says what makes it so hard is knowing that so many kids grew up with Little Mac over the decades. The zoo wanted to let the community know so people could come make a final visit. Officials emphasize that with her medications, Little Mac isn’t in pain.

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