San Francisco Zoo Mourns Loss Of Elly, 'Motherly' Black Rhino

Elly, the the oldest living black rhino in the United States, died last week at her home in the San Francisco Zoo.

The 46-year-old black rhino was anesthetized for a age-related surgery on one of her legs. The zoo's veterinary team decided she could no longer maintain a positive quality of life, and didn’t wake the rhino up from the procedure.

Elly was born and caught in the wild, and she arrived to the San Francisco Zoo on April 16, 1974. (Zoo spokesperson Rachel Eslick wasn’t able to tell us where Elly lived before coming to the city.) The rhino’s favorite treats included beets, bananas and corn. In her old age, she slept on a bed made from an entire bale of straw.

Elly will be remembered as one of the most prolific breeding black rhinos in captivity. During her life at the zoo, she had 14 calves, 15 grand-calves, six great-grand calves and one great-great-grand calf.

Julie McGilvary, an animal keeper at the zoo, described Elly as an attentive and protective mother, telling us that Elly’s great mothering instincts allowed her to make a “prolific contribution” to the work being done by conservationists attempting to manage the critically endangered species. Today, there are roughly 5,000 black rhinos living in the wild.

Elly and her grand-calf, Boone. | Photo: Adamina/Flickr

With the exception of her grand-calf, 8-year-old Boone, all of Elly’s progeny live in zoos across the country, contributing to the managed population of black rhinos.

Boone is now the zoo’s sole black rhino, but Gauhati, a 22-year-old greater one-horned rhino, also calls the zoo home. Eslick said it was too early to know if another black rhino will move into the habitat left behind by Elly.

Last month, Uulu, the zoo’s only polar bear, died at the age of 36. Now, the zoo’s oldest animal is a desert tortoise named Mojave, believed to have been born in 1947. The second oldest animal at the zoo is Cobby, a chimpanzee who was likely born in 1958.

The zoo is asking friends and admirers of Elly to visit the International Rhino Foundation to learn more about what they can do to help save animals like Elly and to make a donation. Neighbors are also invited to visit the zoo’s Facebook page if they’d like to leave their condolences for the beloved rhino.

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