Toronto Zoo mourns elephant Tara

The Toronto Zoo’s elephant herd mourned the loss of its matriarch, Tara, who passed away on Nov. 30.

This is the third time the Toronto Zoo has lost an elephant in the last 14 months. All three elephants arrived from southern Africa on a Polish ocean liner in 1974, shortly after the zoo opened.

According to the zoo, the average lifespan of a captive elephant is 40-45 years, so all three were also reaching old age.

The first loss was Tessa, 39, who died in June after being pushed over by another elephant. Then came Tequila, 38, who died in September of unknown causes. But the recent death of 41-year-old Tara is a blow to the small herd. For the last four years, she was the herd’s dominant elephant, fondly known as “Boss.”

Tara was found lying on the floor of her pen Nov. 30 shortly before 8 a.m. She usually slept standing up, because lying down for long periods of time puts stress on a large animal’s internal organs. Keepers attempted to raise 8500-pound Tara back to her feet with fabric straps on ropes, a portable winch and a backhoe. They managed to help her stand on her back feet, but she didn’t have the strength to move off of a front foot that was trapped under her. “Boss” Tara, who weighed 10,000 pounds in her prime and loved having her face rubbed, died three hours later at around 11 a.m.

Keepers moved her body into the enclosure with the three remaining elephants for the day, so they could grieve. New matriarch Toka, Thika, and Iringa stood around Tara’s body. Tara was then taken away to undergo a post-mortem exam so veterinarians could try to find out why Tara, who appeared healthy, active and interested in food collapsed overnight. Buried on Toronto Zoo property, “Boss” Tara will always be close to home.