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Elderly Asian elephant Ambika dies at Smithsonian's National Zoo

At 72 years old, Ambika was the third oldest Asian elephant in North America.
Credit: Smithsonian National Zoo
Elderly Asian elephant Ambika passed away at the National Zoo Friday.

WASHINGTON — A long-time resident of the Smithonian's National Zoo has passed away after a recent irreversible decline in her health. 

Ambika was humanely euthanized on Friday. Animal care staff estimated Ambika to be around 72 years old, ranking her the third oldest Asian elephant in the North American population. 

For the past 59 years, Ambika has been integral to the Zoo’s campaign to save Asian elephants from extinction and a favorite among generations of Zoo visitors.

“Ambika truly was a giant among our conservation community,” said Steven Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “For the past five decades, Ambika served as both an ambassador and a pioneer for her species. It is not an exaggeration to say that much of what scientists know about Asian elephant biology, behavior, reproduction and ecology is thanks to Ambika’s participation in our conservation-research studies. Firsthand, she helped shape the collective knowledge of what elephants need to survive and thrive both in human care and the wild. Her extraordinary legacy and longevity are a testament to our team, whose professionalism and dedication to Ambika’s well-being and quality of life exemplifies the critical work our community does to save these animals from extinction.”

Ambika was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when she was in her late 60s and she also developed lesions on her foot pads and nails. Animal care staff worked to lessen her pain. Last week, keepers noticed that Ambika’s right-front leg, which bore the brunt of her weight, developed a curve that weakened her ability to stand.  Given her extremely old age, decline, physically and socially, and poor long-term prognosis, staff felt they had exhausted all treatment options and made the decision to humanely euthanize her.  

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