Largest Male Elephant in North America Is Euthanized

Tonka called Zoo Knoxville home for 43 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2024 1:24 PM CDT
Updated May 12, 2024 11:00 AM CDT

Zoo Knoxville knew it would be saying goodbye to its last remaining elephant this year, but the farewell was much sadder than expected. The zoo said Thursday that it had euthanized Tonka, a 46-year-old bull elephant that had called the zoo home for the last 43 years. At 15,000 pounds, Tonka was the largest male elephant in North America and one of the oldest, according to WATE. The zoo said Tonka was placed in hospice care earlier this week because there "were no further options to treat acute pain and swelling in his left front leg."

"We are heartbroken and grieving," Zoo Knoxville Interim President and CEO Drew Rowan said in a statement. "We were very committed to making sure Tonka left this world with all the dignity and love we could surround him with, and I hope that offers some comfort to everyone he touched." The zoo's other two elephants were moved to the Elephant Sanctuary in central Tennessee last year so they could join a larger group in their old age. The zoo had been preparing to move Tonka as well, but as his health declined, they decided he should spend his last days with people he knew in a familiar place, WBIR reports.

When Tonka was placed in hospice care, Knoxville residents looked back at their happy memories from his decades at the zoo. "I was two or three when my mom would take me and my dad would take me," Jordan Driver told WBIR. "It was amazing. Because you're so little, and they're so gigantic." Jordan and his wife Katie had their first date at the zoo—and had a champagne toast near the elephant barn after they got married there last month. He said he had to break the news to their daughter that she wouldn't be able to see Tonka, her favorite animal. "I said, 'Well, sweetie, he's gonna rest now,'" Jordan said. "He's done a lot for a lot of people. And he's made a lot of people happy. She understands." (More elephant stories.)

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