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Elephant Care

Caring for Suki

Our elderly elephant.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium keepers and veterinarians are experts at providing the highest quality of care for our elderly Asian female elephant Suki.

Elephant Manager Shannon has cared for Suki since she arrived here in the late 1990s. Shannon and the elephant care team have developed strong bonds with her.

At 57, Suki is an elderly elephant and has already lived beyond the median life expectancy of 47 for female Asian elephants in human care. Suki has chronic medical conditions; she has been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and also suffers from uterine tumors, similar to fibroids.

 

Senior keeper Shannon Smith with Suki the elephant.

How We Care

A former circus elephant, Suki came to Point Defiance Zoo in 1996 and has thrived under the attentiveness of her experienced elephant care team who tend to her daily needs. In their care, she receives plenty of exercise for her mind and body, and receives enrichments ranging from activities to tasty treats. She voluntarily participates in her own health care, presenting her feet, trunk, mouth and ears to her animal care team so they can identify any medical issues or concerns and swiftly address them.

That’s particularly important with elderly elephants who, like humans, can develop more medical issues as they age.

A Home For Suki

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, as a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, has a strong program of elephant care that meets high standards of animal care, nutrition, exercise and enrichment. We were a leader in pioneering protected contact and positive reinforcement in elephant care.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What happened to your other elephant?

At age 56, Hanako was humanely euthanized in February 2020 after a severe decline in her health. She lived far beyond the median life expectancy of 47 for female Asian elephants in human care.

Do you plan to get another elephant?

No. Suki has a demonstrated history of anti-social behavior with other elephants. She has strong bonds with her keepers and veterinary team members who care for her daily. And she enjoys a busy day with routine care, exercise and enrichments that keep her mind and body active.

How is Suki’s TB treatment going?

Our veterinarians and elephant-care team planned a yearlong TB treatment regimen for Suki. However, after regularly taking her medication for many months, Suki began refusing to take it consistently. As anyone with a sick pet knows, getting animals to take their medicine can be quite a challenge. And getting a very smart elephant, like Suki, to take bitter-tasting medication — with major side effects — is even more challenging.

Our veterinary and elephant-care teams tried everything – from adjusting her drug-dosage levels to using innovative drug-delivery methods to rewarding her with favorite treats – but Suki would not reliably take her prescribed TB medication. Suki’s unwillingness to consistently take her prescribed medication could have led to a drug-resistant strain of TB – and our veterinarians weren’t willing to take that risk. So, in consultation with public health officials and other elephant veterinarians with experience treating TB, we made the decision to suspend Suki’s TB treatment. Our veterinary and animal-care teams continue to closely monitor her and assess her comfort and quality of life.

Is it safe for Zoo guests?

Yes. Public health officials have inspected our outdoor elephant viewing area and deemed it safe for Zoo visitors. And we’ve worked closely with public health experts to implement strict protocols to ensure the safety of our staff and guests. TB is not easy to get and transmission requires close, prolonged contact with people or animals with active TB.

What happens to the elephant area when Suki passes away someday? Will you get more elephants?

Over a decade ago, we made the decision that when Suki passed away we would transition from caring for Asian elephants to caring for another species in need of conservation support.

We’re in the process of developing a new Zoo strategic plan – and the future of our current elephant habitat is one of many topics we’ll be discussing. We’ll invite our community to provide input on our future and what they would like to see and experience at Point Defiance Zoo in the years ahead.

What is Point Defiance Zoo  & Aquarium doing to help elephants in the wild?

Point Defiance Zoo is an active partner in global efforts to protect Asian and African elephants. Through The Zoo Society’s Dr. Holly Reed Conservation Fund, we help support forest rangers in Sumatra who patrol the forests for poachers and work to reduce human-elephant conflict by herding wild elephants away from settlements.