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Little Mac will dictate her fate, with help of a global elephant expert

Managers at the Santa Barbara Zoo are keeping a close eye on its one remaining Asian elephant.

LIttle Mac is alone for the first time in nearly 50 years, following the death of her longtime companion, Sujatha — or Suzy — who was euthanized earlier this week because of her declining health.

A posted sign honoring Sujatha, the 47 year old Asian elephant, now greets visitors to the elephant exhibit. The words express the Zoo’s grief her passing on Tuesday, October 16.

Mac spent about five hours off and on with Suzy’s body, going in and out of the barn and investigating her, Elizabeth Beem told reporter Beth Farnsworth.

Beem is Manager of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Elephant Program.

“She came out, explored the exhibit,” Beem said. “(Little Mac) would occasionally come back to Suzy, touch her with her trunk, very calmly, very quiet, very peaceful.”

Just feet away from that posted sign, Little Mac, Suzy’s companion of 46 years, is adjusting as the Zoo’s lone pachyderm.

“We’re really, really pleased with how she’s adapting to this change in her life,” Beem said.

Beem explained how she’s spent the past 10 years caring for the two elephants. While it will take weeks, if not months, to really know how Little Mac is coping with the loss, overall, Beem said Little Mac is doing well.

Signs of trouble will be obvious.

“Lack of movement or walking around the yard with no purpose,” Beem said.

Little Mac is considered “geriatric,” nearly 48 years old. At this stage in life most of her teeth are missing so her food has to be ground up. Beem said she needs daily pedicures and weekly foot soaks in disinfectant. Foot care for elephants is crucial to their health.

“In the next couple of weeks we’re going to be having an expert from the San Diego Zoo who’s an expert on animal/elephant welfare care in to assess her and help us determine what are the best options for Mac moving forward,” said Julia Barnes, Director of Animal Care and Health.

Zoo officials said bringing in a new elephant in not an option; neither is shipping Little Mac to a sanctuary because of her special needs. However, joining a herd in another facility is a possibility.

“It may not be a popular decision to move Mac from her Santa Barbara home,” Barnes said. “She’s been loved here, her home of 46 years. However, at this time our absolute priority is what is best for Mac.”

Barnes said experts plan to do a necropsy on Sujatha.

“It’s really important,” Barnes said. “We get some incredibly valuable information from a necropsy, particularly about the types of disease that we see in elephants that are aging. And that’s information that’s beneficial for future generations of elephants, both with human care and those in the wild.”

Beem and Barnes said the elephant expert from San Diego is scheduled to arrive the first week of November.

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