Niabi Zoo officials on Monday were forced to euthanize one of its oldest residents, Molly, a 35-year-old female plains zebra, due to chronic joint and bone issues brought on by her advanced age.
Molly had been under extensive veterinary care that included chronic pain management for the last two years.
"This is never an easy decision, and the zoo’s keeper staff, veterinary team, and managers in the end had to consider the animal’s quality of life and the fact that her condition would only deteriorate," said Niabi director Lee Jackson.
Jackson said Molly was an "extraordinary animal."
"Only about 25 percent of plains zebras reach the age of 24 in captivity and, in the wild, none do," Jackson said.
"According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Associations’ plains zebra species survival plan and studbook, there are 270 plains zebra in North America," he said. "The Niabi Zoo’s 35-year-old female was the third oldest on record.
"This is a remarkable testament to the level of care afforded the animals at the Niabi Zoo, and to the tireless dedication of our keeper, and veterinary staffs," Jackson said.
As animal care science and veterinary techniques have improved, many animals in zoos are living well past what can be expected by their wild counterparts. Jackson said older zoo animals face the same challenges as elderly humans: dental, eye and joint issues; digestive problems; and weakened immune function.
All animals at Niabi Zoo, particularly the older ones, are monitored daily for signs of discomfort. Body condition, weights and food intakes are monitored and recorded in exacting detail.
Molly was 1-year-old when she came to Niabi from another institution.
"She was the even-keeled matriarch of our little zebra herd," said Kristina Stump, primary hoofstock Keeper at Niabi. "I've looked after her my entire zoo career. She was a lovely animal to work with."
To learn more about Niabi's animals, people are encouraged public to attend daily keeper chats at noon and 3 p.m. Fall hours at Niabi are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; the zoo is closed on Monday.
The last day of the general admission season is Oct. 28. Education classes, camps and other events will take place through the winter off-season.