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Joy the Elephant: 1970-2014

Zoo Staff Answers Your Questions

Joy and her favorite tire.

Who was Joy?
Born in Africa in 1970, Joy was 7 years old when she arrived in Greenville and remained the zoo's only elephant until she moved to Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens in 1997 while Greenville’s elephant barn underwent remodeling. Upon her return, Joy welcomed a new exhibit mate, Brittanie. Unfortunately, the two were not compatible and consequently, Brittanie was transferred to another zoo. In 2006, Greenville Zoo added a companion for Joy named Ladybird, who was the same age as Joy. The two got along well and shared the elephant habitat until Ladybird’s death in March 2014. Because Joy found comfort and companionship in Ladybird, it was vital to provide Joy with continued companionship for the remainder of her life.

Why does Joy have two names?
Some zoos have two different names for their residents – one for use by the public and one for use during training sessions. When she arrived at the Greenville Zoo in 1977, the zookeepers and trainers decided on Joy for her "public name" and Joni for her "private name."

What is the role of elephants in zoos?
The role of many zoos is to connect people with wildlife and wild places through experiences that inspire action. Elephants serve as ambassadors, and without them, most people would never have the chance to see such a majestic animal in person. Elephants, like other zoo animals, help educate guests and allow them to make emotional connections that we hope will inspire them to take conservation actions that will positively impact animals in the wild and their habitats.

Are African elephants endangered?
Conservation and education efforts are crucial to maintain vulnerable populations, which is what makes the job of captive elephants as ambassadors so important. In the wild, elephants are in trouble, but together we can help them. Not purchasing ivory, speaking up for stricter legislation surrounding illegal ivory imports to the U.S. and financially supporting elephant conservation organizations are just a few things we can all do to help save wild elephant populations.

What role do zoos play in elephant conservation?
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos, including the Greenville Zoo and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, play an important role in furthering conservation on a worldwide basis. Not only do our animal ambassadors provide a connection to their wild counterparts, but, by visiting our zoos and seeing our animals in person, you are contributing to wildlife conservation through our Quarters for Conservation program.

What is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)?
The AZA is our accrediting association. The zoo values accreditation from AZA because it holds the Greenville Zoo to a higher standard and emphasizes conservation and education over entertainment (although our wonderful animals do provide entertainment for all ages).

Why did Joy have to leave the Greenville Zoo?
In 2012, the AZA posted new standards for keeping elephants in accredited zoos. In order for Greenville to meet the requirements for keeping elephants, it would have required the zoo to hold three elephants at its site. In addition, the zoo would have needed to devote one-third of its entire zoo to elephants. After looking at several options during the master planning process, participating in several public meetings and looking at the future of elephant enclosures across the United States, the consensus was that the Greenville Zoo is better suited to make a difference for other species in the future. After making the difficult decision to close the elephant exhibit, zoo staff began identifying potential homes for Joy and Ladybird. Following Ladybird’s unexpected death in March 2014, the staff stepped up their search to find Joy a facility that would have provided her with several social opportunities. It was also important to find a facility where she could receive care for her age-related conditions and be closely monitored throughout her geriatric years.

What was the process for selecting Cheyenne Mountain Zoo?
The Greenville Zoo went through an extensive search, working directly with the Elephant Species Survival Program (SSP) to identify AZA-accredited facilities that would be the right fit for Joy. Five potential facilities were identified, and each facility completed a questionnaire designed to outline their veterinary care, elephant program and staff. In addition, the staff took elephant personalities into consideration. It was extremely important for the zoo to ensure that Joy was in an environment where she was compatible with the herd.

After all questionnaires were reviewed, the Greenville Zoo narrowed it down to three facilities and facilitated conference calls and site visits to Greenville. The Greenville Zoo staff agreed that Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO would be the best facility to meet Joy’s needs for long term management and care.

Why is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo the best choice?
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo completed the Encounter Africa exhibit in 2013, designing it specifically for mature, non-reproductive female African elephants. Joy would have joined a herd of four other mature female elephants at the zoo. Caring for mature elephants can be a challenging prospect, and the veterinary staff at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was well equipped to meet the medical needs of older elephants and the ongoing needs that Joy presented.

The Wilgruen Elephant Center has multiple interior spaces for housing elephants and the interior space provides for plenty of room for psychological as well as physical enrichment during times that the elephants might not be outdoors. The outside spaces are designed specifically for meeting the daily needs of elephants. In front of the barn, there is a waterfall feature where the elephants can bathe in a cascade of water, or submerge themselves in the pool. There is also regular exercise, a yoga program to keep the elephants’ joints moving and a three-acre “vacation yard” that includes a wooded area for times when the elephants might look for alternative enrichment.

How would Joy have benefited from living at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo?
Joy had age-specific needs that the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo veterinary and keeper staff were equipped to manage. The Wilgruen Elephant Barn would have assisted in addressing some of her health issues. The barn boasts state-of-the-art features, including a crane and hoist system that can lift a disabled elephant and a care system that weighs elephants and provides a safe area for veterinary care and husbandry training. The outdoor exhibit space is also beneficial for elephant health, as it offers many exercise opportunities, including a long walking path, built-in enrichment activities, pool and a three-acre vacation yard, where the zoo’s elephants can take a break from their duties as animal ambassadors and just be elephants.

Was Cheyenne Mountain Zoo really the best home for this elephant?
In our hearts and minds, we truly believed Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was the best new home for Joy. AZA’s “Standards for Elephant Management and Care” outlines requirements for enclosure design, nutrition, enrichment and veterinary care to ensure high-quality zoo habitats for elephants. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Encounter Africa exhibit exceeds AZA standards.

Why didn’t you send Joy to a sanctuary?
The Greenville Zoo staff did look at The Elephant Sanctuary, as well as other facilities, but chose the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo because it met and exceeded all of the needs that the animal management staff was requiring when looking for a new home for Joy. Not all elephant care facilities are the same. Less than 10% of the 2,800 wildlife exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are AZA-accredited. AZA-accredited facilities meet rigorous, mandatory standards for animal care and welfare, which include high and detailed standards that cover habitat, nutrition, reproduction, enrichment, veterinary care and more. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s elephant exhibit exceeds the AZA’s standards. They were the best choice to care for Joy in her advanced age and provide her with the care that she needed in her geriatric years.

What happened in transit to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo?
During transit, Joy was monitored periodically with well-checks. On Friday evening she ate some romaine lettuce, watermelon and a small amount of alfalfa hay (some of her favorites) while the truck had stopped for the night. Saturday morning she was up and alert. During a stop early on Saturday evening, Joy was drinking water and seemed to be doing well. Unfortunately, a short time later during another routine stop, it was discovered that Joy had passed away.

Did you know that there was a risk of her passing in transit?
Transporting any animal has inherent risks, especially for an elderly 8,000 pound elephant. Zoo staff took the risks into account, but the benefits of having Joy live out her years at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo outweighed those risks. Elephants are social animals, and everyone wanted Joy to have companionship during her elder years. Staff also knew that the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo had the resources, personnel and facilities to provide her with the very best care.

Did you have a plan in place in case of emergency during transit?
Staff from the Greenville Zoo, including its veterinarian and elephant manager, were following the transit vehicle and doing periodic well-checks on Joy throughout the trip. Prior to the trip, the Greenville Zoo made arrangements with nine zoos along the route, which were on standby to help them if the need arose.

Do you know why she died?
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has received Joy’s final necropsy report from Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories. The necropsy’s pathology report was inconclusive, but did confirm that no significant preexisting conditions were missed during the multitude of initial tests that were performed prior to Joy’s shipment, and that all signs indicated that she was healthy enough for transport. According to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s veterinarian, unfortunately, Joy’s necropsy tells us a lot about what didn’t cause her death, but not what did. They don't know exactly what caused her death, but they believe she passed away quickly and suddenly, as there was no evidence of struggling or trauma. Having an animal pass away during transport is a rare occurrence for an AZA institution, and the Greenville Zoo did everything to ensure the best possible outcome for Joy during her move.

Could the heat have affected her?
The trailer that she was transported in was climate-controlled, and the conditions of the trailer were checked at each stop to determine how she was doing and the conditions of the trailer. At no time along the journey was it deemed that the trailer was too warm.

Who did the necropsy?
The necropsy was performed by both Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Greenville Zoo veterinary staff.