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Tulsa Zoo Mourns Loss of Beloved Gunda

TULSA, Okla. (Jan. 22, 2018) – The Tulsa Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Gunda, the Tulsa Zoo’s longest resident. Zoo staff had been offering her hospice care, as Gunda, at the age of 67, had displayed a natural decline in her health as a result of chronic, age-related issues. She passed away on Jan. 22, 2018, in her exhibit attended to by her caregivers.

Gunda was an iconic member of the zoo family since 1954. A favorite of zoo staff and visitors, her arrival in Tulsa was the result of a fortuitous event. The ship carrying her to the United States broke down in Bermuda. Children, anxious to see an elephant for the first time, boarded the ship and Gunda became a news sensation. During Gunda’s two week stay in Bermuda, she was dubbed “the most popular tourist of the year” by local media. The adventure inspired an illustrated children’s book titled Ghunda’s Bermuda Holiday.

Her popularity followed her to Tulsa, where Gunda made appearances on Saturday mornings outside of different downtown stores for several months. Tulsans donated toward a “Keep Gunda Fund,” sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and Jaycees.

“We know an untold number of people have been able to connect with her,” says Vice President of Animal Conservation and Science Joe Barkowski. “We are very proud of our current and past animal care and animal health teams for the way they have looked after Gunda these many, many years.”

The decision to humanely euthanize Gunda was made when animal care and veterinary staff determined that her quality of life was in decline. Due to her advanced age Gunda had been diagnosed with several geriatric related conditions. Treatment to control and slow degenerative processes such as joint disease had been implemented and helpful to Gunda for many years. Recently there came a point where treatment was no longer going to be effective in holding off the effects of time. “This is never an easy decision, but we owed it to Gunda to make her comfortable” says Director of Animal Health Kay Backues, DVM. “She was attended to by her human caretakers who had taken care of her for many years. All of us who have cared for Gunda were present to make her passing a safe and gentle process.”

After Gunda’s passing her long time herd mate Sooky spent time with her, as staff provided an opportunity for her to come into contact with Gunda one last time. Field research on elephant herd behavior has shown that elephants spend time with their deceased family members and we wanted to allow an opportunity for this important part of their social structure.

Tulsa Zoo staff will work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants and other partners to evaluate options for increasing the herd. We will continue to maintain our current elephants – male Sneezy and female Sooky in the interim. The zoo is committed to the species, with Vision funding being dedicated toward increasing our elephant facilities for the future.

In memory of Gunda, friends can share in our #ElebrationOfLife on the zoo’s Facebook page or other social media platforms. Pictures can be sent to