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Dari, a longtime resident of Utah's Hogle Zoo and the longest-lived African elephant ever in North America, has died.
The animal care and veterinary staff made the difficult decision to euthanize the 55-year-old elephant Saturday after she was found lying on the ground, zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen said.
The cause of death was simply old age. The average life expectancy for elephants in the wild is 42 years, the zoo said.
"She was a tough old gal," Hansen said.
Dari a shortened version of the name Hy-Dari had lived at Hogle since 1967 and was a huge draw.
"She spans generations," Hansen said. "A lot of people have memories of seeing this elephant. It's extraordinarily painful to lose an animal like this."
Hogle elephant manager Eric Peterson said in a news release that Dari was difficult to train.
"She was a very hard elephant to get close to because she wanted to make sure you were trustworthy," he said. "But once you got through her tough exterior, she was very affectionate."
Dari was being treated recently for arthritis and other conditions related to old age, according to senior veterinarian Nancy Carpenter. The elephant was found lying on the ground in May and a crane helped bring her back to her feet. Although she began eating then, Dari never recovered her full strength.
"She was starting to have more bad days than good and didn't have that fighting spirit," Carpenter said.
Dari was the matriarch of the zoo's elephants, and leaves behind 26-year-old Christie and 6-year-old Zuri. The two elephants were allowed grieving time with Dari after she passed away and are expected to go through a mourning period of their own, according to the news release.
Hansen said the death serves as a reminder that elephants are in danger of becoming extinct because they are being poached in Africa for their ivory at the rate of about 96 per day. She encouraged those who want to stop the illegal ivory trade to visit the website of the 96 Elephants organization at 96elephants.org.