Aging Gracefully -- Elderly Animals Get Special Care, Treatment at Memphis Zoo

Article excerpt

When she died last week at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Ind., Memphis native Donna the hippopotamus was believed to be the oldest hippo living in captivity.

Donna was 61. Her sister, Julie, 51, was born in Memphis as well and remains on display at the Memphis Zoo with her daughter, Splish.

The long lives of Donna and Julie illustrate a unique challenge for zoos committed to the care of animals from the cradle to the grave. That care includes meeting the needs of senior citizens that reach ages they'd likely never see in the wild.

That's kind of a side effect of captivity, said Matt Thompson, director of animal programs at the Memphis Zoo.

Veterinary care and an optimal diet result in longer lives for captive animals. And while there are variables based on species, on average an animal can live 10 years longer in a zoo than in the wild, Thompson said.

In the wild, nature isn't so kind to geriatric animals, but we are, he said.

Often, old age is relative. Savannah, a senior female lion, is 18.

At 51, Julie is one of the oldest animals at the zoo and is still in good health, Thompson said.

African elephant Tyranza is 47 and her neighbor Tombi, a rhinoceros, is 40.

Debbie, an Asian ape called a siamang, is 43 and her best friend, Chickie, an orangutan, is 35.

She's probably the oldest siamang in the country, Thompson said of Debbie, who was caught in the wild and came to the zoo in 1968 with her lifetime companion Danny. He died several years ago. …