After six sets of teeth and one additional molar, Suki the Asian elephant has lost her final tooth. Suki is extraordinary. At 57, she is a senior elephant and has already lived beyond the median life expectancy of 47 for female Asian elephants in human care. Not only that, but most elephants only have six sets of teeth in a lifetime. In 2020, keepers noticed Suki got a rare seventh molar.
“Asian elephants typically get their last set in around their early 40s,” said elephant manager Shannon. “She never ceases to amaze us!”
Shannon has cared for Suki since she first arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 1996. Shannon and the elephant care team have developed strong bonds with her. Suki 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.
“Thanks to her help, we’ve been able to closely monitor Suki’s teeth for many years now,” said Shannon.
Suki will open her mouth wide for her keepers, even allowing them to put a long camera in her mouth to get an up-close look at her brick-sized molar.
“That’s how we found out she had shifted in a new molar in 2020 after she’d already gone through six sets of teeth,” explained Shannon.
In the wild, Asian elephants can eat up to 300 pounds of food in one day, wearing out their teeth. Their teeth slowly grow and shift from the back to the front of their mouths. As Suki has aged and lost teeth, keepers have adapted the way they prepare her food.
“We thinly slice her vegetables and fruit, soak her hay pellets, give her chopped hay and take the rind off her watermelon,” said Shannon. “And then we closely monitor Suki’s poop to ensure she is digesting her food well.”
“Suki still seems to enjoy eating too!” noted Shannon. “She particularly likes her watermelon and banana leaves.”
Read more about the amazing care Suki receives here