by: KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:
SEATTLE - Zoo officials had to euthanize the only African Elephant at Woodland Park Zoo Friday morning.
Zookeepers arrived to find 45-year-old Watoto lying down in the elephant yard and unable to get up.
Animal health staff first attempted lifting Watoto to her feet with the support of cloth straps and heavy machinery but failed.
Zoo officials say her health was quickly declining and she would likely become more uncomfortable; the decision was made to euthanize her.
"This is a very difficult time for our zoo family as we mourn the loss of Watoto, a beloved animal and dear friend to our staff and volunteers, members and community," said Bruce Bohmke, Woodland Park Zoo's Chief Operations Officer. "Watoto has lived a long, healthful life at Woodland Park Zoo under the care of dedicated keepers and staff. We will all miss her greatly."
A full necropsy will be performed and findings will be released in the coming weeks. The south end of the Elephant Forest exhibit will remain closed until further notice while staff attends to matters relating to Watoto’s death.
Just last month animal advocates packed a Seattle City Council meeting wearing orange T-shirts to persuade the council to take responsibility for the three elephants and retire Watoto to a sanctuary because she was in poor health.
Advocates also feared she would be sent to another zoo. The issue was sidelined for a future meeting.
Zoo officials said Watoto was born in Kenya between 1969 and 1970 and joined Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant herd in 1971 as an orphan from the wild. Her name is Swahili for "children," and she was considered to be the matriarch or leader of the zoo’s herd. Watoto is the only African elephant at Woodland Park Zoo and is distinguished by her large ears, saddle-shaped back and visible tusk.