She made it through traveling zoos and attractions, private owners, the move from Cheatham to Davidson county locations and her new home, the African Elephant Savannah at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. But Thursday, Kiba's battle with a degenerative joint disease ended her journeys.
The Nashville Zoo’s 26-year-old African elephant spent the last few hours of her life Thursday morning surrounded by her zoo family and keepers, some of whom cared for her for more than 17 years — and had to make the difficult decision to euthanize her after a serious decline in her health.
Kiba, who arrived at the zoo in 1995, was an “ambassador” who greeted millions of guests. The gentle giant shared the spotlight with her elephant companions, Sukari and Hadari (ages 25 and 27 respectively).
“This is a tremendous loss for zoo staff and all who loved her,” said Rick Schwartz, Nashville Zoo president. “Kiba saw our move from Cheatham County to the Grassmere property. She saw the opening of her new African Elephant Savannah home. She was a beautiful ambassador for her species and she will be truly missed.”
Upon her arrival in Nashville, zookeepers noticed that the young elephant had problems with her back legs and believed an earlier injury was likely the cause. For several years, keepers and the veterinarian staff worked diligently in an attempt to slow Kiba’s degenerative joint disease.
However, despite medical treatment and extraordinary care, her condition continued to decline. Recently, with a grave prognosis and deteriorating quality of life, the decision for humane euthanasia was made.
The decision was devastating to her keepers Chuck and Risé Pankow, who have been caring for Kiba for more than 17 years. They described Kiba as gentle, friendly and content at just about anything she was doing. The elephant loved her food and the Pankows would sometimes ship in a special variety of Pennisetum grass from Florida, Kiba’s favorite.
As ambassadors for their wild relatives, Nashville Zoo’s elephants provide an opportunity to help increase knowledge, change attitudes, make emotional connections and change behaviors in guests that can positively impact elephant conservation, Schwartz said.
In addition, the zoo contributes financially to a program managed by International Elephant Foundation (IEF) that helps to reduce and eventually end poaching of elephants in the wild. Schwartz encouraged anyone wishing to honor Kiba to make a contribution to this program through the zoo’s Web site.