Goodbye Gentle Iringa

African elephant, Iringa, a longtime resident of the Toronto Zoo before being re-homed at PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary in San Andreas, California was euthanized yesterday. She was 46 years old and among the oldest African elepants in North America. Iringa was a gentle giant and well-loved by her Toronto zoo keepers and her winning personality made her a star during the more than 40 years she was at the Zoo.

It was a very sad day for the many keepers who worked with her. Described as “an elephant with attitude,” she was known to steal 22-kilo bags of carrots and whole jars of jellybeans to satisfy her sweet tooth. Rebecca Clark, one of the keepers who worked with Iringa in Toronto fought back tears yesterday as she recounted stories to the Toronto Star about her favorite elephant. “She was the most trusting animal I ever worked with…I don’t know if I’ll ever work with an animal that has that level of trust in the keepers ever again,” Clark said. Councillor and zoo management board member Glenn De Baeremaeker said he developed a relationship with Iringa, visiting her for more than two decades. “She was a big, beautiful, bold, brilliant elephant and thank goodness she died a happy elephant.” he said — a tribute to the wonderful PAWS Sanctuary where she was relocated in 2013.

Born in Mozambique in 1969, Iringa was one of the first elephants to join the exhibit at the Toronto Zoo in 1974. With her short tusks she became an instantly recognizable star at the zoo, even as the elephant herd grew to seven members.

Iringa and her herd mates, Toka and Thika, became the center of an international debate after four of the zoo’s elephants died in a relatively short space of time. The fate of the remaining three was up in the air and hotly debated for some time before Bob Barker got involved and contributed $880,000 U.S. dollars to cover the transfer of the elphants to a bigger facility. Luckily, the three amigos were sent to a 32-hectare habitat in southern California which resembled their African homeland, replete with mud holes, trees and small rolling hills.

Iringa spent her final days in this elephant paradise before the staff at PAWS decided her health had deteriorated too much and the only option to ease her suffering was euthanasia. She suffered a long time from arthritis due to her years in captivity and had trouble laying down. Degenerative joint and foot disease is the leading cause for euthanizing elephants in captivity. I wish she could have had more years at PAWS.

Although she was only at PAWS for the last couple of years, staff and Ed Stewart, founder and owner of the sanctuary, are struggling with her loss. “It’s like watching your parents get old.My father is 98, and you hold your breath every time the phone rings,” said Stewart. “It was humbling to be around her for all of us. I wish she could have lived 100 years.”

Based on and with excerpts from an article in the Toronto Star July 24, 2015 by Dan Taekema (Staff Reporter)

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