COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD/AP) – One of two elephants at a South Carolina zoo has died unexpectedly.
Riverbanks Zoo said the 49-year-old female African elephant named Robin was found dead early Thursday at the Columbia zoo.
It is with heavy hearts that we share the sad news of the passing of one of Riverbanks’ two African elephants. Robin, the Zoo’s eldest female elephant, passed away unexpectedly overnight. “Robin had a lot of spunk and acted half her age, said John Davis, director of animal care and welfare at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “At 49, she lived well beyond her life expectancy because of the tremendous care she received throughout her life. We love her, and we will miss her.” The Zoo’s elephant exhibit will be closed Thursday.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Animal Care and Welfare Director John Davis said in a statement the elephant had lived well beyond its life expectancy, but still had a lot of spunk.
The zoo closed its elephant exhibit Thursday after the animal’s death. There were two elephants in the exhibit.
According to a press release, the zoo was working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ African Elephant Species Survival Plan to find a new herd for 48-year-old Robin and 37-year-old Belle.
They say the move will allow the beloved pachyderms to live with a larger group in a more social environment.
While Robin and Belle will retire, Davis said this is not necessarily the end of elephants at the zoo.
“Ideally, we would like to one day manage a breeding group; however, housing male elephants is not an option in our current habitat,” he said. “Additional space is required to separate males and females during non-breeding season when bulls tend to be solitary animals.”
Once Robin and Belle make their departure, the exhibit will be refurbished and Riverbanks will re-introduce and breed Southern white rhinos at the Zoo—a species last seen at Riverbanks in 1989.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates less than 22,000 individuals remain in the wild most of which are found in the grasslands of southern Africa. Northern white rhinos are now extinct in the wild because of poaching.
“We are excited to give our guests the opportunity to connect and interact with these magnificent creatures that, without us, face an uncertain future,” said Thomas Stringfellow, President and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “By bringing white rhinos back to Riverbanks, we have a great opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of this species.”
White rhinos are the most social of the five species of rhinoceros and the second largest land mammal behind the elephant, the zoo said.
Riverbanks is slated to open the Southern white rhino exhibit in the summer of 2020.