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Wanda, former Detroit Zoo elephant, dies

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The beloved elephant Wanda, a former resident of the Detroit Zoo, has died. She was 57.

Wanda spent nearly the last 10 years of her life in California, after she and companion Winky moved from the Royal Oak zoo to a sanctuary in April 2005. In 2008, Winky was euthanized at the age of 56 due to complications from severe arthritis.

Despite improved conditions at the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in San Andreas, California, the elephants continued to suffer from chronic foot problems and severe arthritis, zoo officials said.

Wanda took a turn for the worse in the past few weeks and the decision was made late last night to “humanely end her life,” zoo officials said.

“We knew this day was coming, but we are all sad,” Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director Ron Kagan said in a statement on Thursday. “We can never thank the staff at PAWS enough for giving these two lovely beings such excellent care and many great years.”

Wanda and Winky’s move to the sanctuary drew international attention and sparked a debate on how elephants fare in captivity.

The pair had been residents of the Detroit Zoo for about a decade before the zoo became the first in the country to decide solely for ethical reasons it could no longer keep them. Other zoos have since made the same decision.

Arthritis is common in captive elephants and thought to be the result of living in small areas and standing on hard floors for long periods of time, officials said. In the wild elephants live in warm climates and walk as many as 30 miles a day, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“Wanda’s death, while very sad, will hopefully continue the conversation about how zoos can play a significant role in reshaping public attitudes and values toward the humane treatment of animals,” Kagan said. “This is the end of a chapter, but not the end of the story.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

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