Never Forget: The Sad Lives and Deaths of Chico, Peaches, Wankie and Tatima

August 3rd, 2011 by Nicole Meyer


On July 10, Chico, the oldest bull elephant in captivity in North America died in the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. Information is exceedingly sparse: Like so many other elephants in zoos, he was “found unresponsive” in the morning when keepers arrived for work. No one knows how long he had been down or what he went through before they arrived and euthanized him. He was only 46. Chico’s death marks the end of a tragic and disgraceful chapter in captive elephant history, but one that is in constant danger of being repeated.

In 2003, Chico was one of four elephants living at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now called San Diego Zoo Safari Park). He, along with females Peaches, Wankie and Tatima, had been there for around three decades. Though all originally had been taken from the wild.

Between the four elephants, they had managed to produce five calves for the zoo; two died within a month of birth, and the three that survive to this day were wrenched from their mothers at the ages of one and two years, and shipped to other zoos. Moja is in the Pittsburg Zoo, and Tavi and her half-brother Tsavo remain the only two African elephants at the Canton Zoo in China.

In 2001, San Diego joined forces with the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida to import eleven young, wild-born elephants that were captured at the zoos’ request. They were part of a group of 37 cull orphans and their offspring who had been relocated to Swaziland and were living as established herds in protected parks there – the entirety of Swaziland’s small elephant population at the time. International elephant trade by zoos had been suspended for a decade when San Diego first contacted Swaziland authorities to arrange for the shipment of these elephants.

Despite the best efforts of IDA and the Coalition to Save Wild Elephants, the young Swaziland elephants were brought to the zoos in 2003, but not before San Diego had moved its four long-term resident elephants Chico, Peaches, Wankie and Tatima out to make room for them. Already ailing, Peaches, Wankie and Tatima were shipped out of sunny San Diego and into Chicago’s frigid winters at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The three elephants did not last even two years there. Tatima died in October 2004; like Chico she was found collapsed on the floor when the keepers arrived in the morning. Cause of death was infection with a bacterium similar to tuberculosis (Mycobacterium szulgai). Peaches followed only three months later, purportedly due to “old age.” She was 55; African elephants can live to be 65.

During the ensuing uproar by elephant welfare advocates, Wankie was secretly loaded onto a truck during the last chilly night of April 2005 and shipped to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah, despite the fact she was recovering from colic (a painful condition that can cause an elephant to collapse). She was found kneeling in the truck, a potentially dangerous situation, somewhere around the midway point of the 22-hour trip, with temps in 20 to 30 degree range and no heat. After one more stop, the decision to continue driving sealed her fate, and she was euthanized upon arrival at the zoo. A final report showed that Wankie died of the same bacterial lung infection that killed Tatima, and that the infection coupled with “stress of shipping” may have caused her collapse.

All these elephants – Chico, Peaches, Tatima and Wankie – were victims of a zoo industry that values female elephants over males, babies over adults, and, always, money over the animals that they claim to care for. Their story should never be forgotten. Nor can we let our guard down when it comes to the capture of wild elephants for the purpose of restocking zoos – a practice that continues today.

Check back for IDA’s blog on the recent import of African elephants to the Pittsburgh Zoo’s breeding center, and how the public never had a clue!

Join IDA’s Elephant Task Force to find out what you can do to help elephants!

14 Responses to “Never Forget: The Sad Lives and Deaths of Chico, Peaches, Wankie and Tatima”

  1. December 02, 2011 at 11:35 pm, Jame Majerus said:

    And wake up cuffed to a hospital bed if lucky.


  2. August 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm, Britta said:

    I worked at the Wild Animal Park when Chico, Wankie, Tatima and Peaches were there. I remember Chico being separated from the herd all the time in a horrible enclosure.

    In 2003, I wrote a letter to the CEO, Doug Myers, expressing my concern about the import of elephants from Africa, never thinking that they would callously send our elephants to other facilities. I was told, “If I don’t condone the policy and practices of the zoo, I should look for a new job.”

    The San Diego Zoo and the The San Diego Wild Animal Park management do not care about animals. They are a mere commodity to them. A money making tool.

    I am so sad to hear about Chico dying. In the photo he looks so sad and lonely…like he did his whole life.

    I can only hope that these greedy, calloused decision makers in zoos who put money before the well-being of animals will pay their karmic debt someday.


  3. August 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm, Teanna Marcia said:

    We should be able to sue animal abusers for Mental anguish as we who love animals suffer every time we hear of an animal being abused. the person who causes the pain should be sued by someone who can speak for the animals who can not speak in their own behalf and tell in court what they have suffered from those who hide in the background. they suffer in silence we can help get involved contact other animal activist and see what you can do nothing, absolutely nothing is too small. your siganture becomes a big thing when added to others it helps the numbers grow to thousands. hte main thing is give what you can of yourself, some give a little some can give much, no matter dont let them suffer in silence somewhere a little one is waiting for you and I, don’t let them down, give a few minutes.


  4. August 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm, Teanna Marcia said:

    We will never forget. We will continue to try to stop the abuse of these social animals who must suffer in silence. If they hurt a human they are put to death. If they think the animal deserves to die and can not be rehabilitated what makes them think a person can be? It has been proven over and over again, animal abusers are a threat to society and anyone who comes in contact with them. Zoos and circus are obsolete along with Rodeos. these animals have a social life, they suffer everything man suffers and every feeling we have. We need to stop and understand they should be protected they also have animal rights that was given to them by God. He did not intend we cause them physical pain or mental pain and anguish. stop their pain and suffering.get involved see animal activist groups to see what you can do. Nothing is too small. nothing at all so don’t let it stop you because you think what you give is too small. give it all you have. a signature,a toy, anything at all.


  5. August 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm, Deb Basha said:

    There are no words to describe the pure ache in my heart. these wonderful, magnificent, loving, family oriented animals…tortured and disrepected all of their lives..Families torn apart…babies wrenched from loving Mothers. I can only imagine the boredom, the pure agony and suffering. SHAMEFUL.We have all got to get the word out and take a stand for these sweet animals…who share the exact emotional feelings we do! Boycott elephant slavery in every form…WHY , in this day are we allowing this slavery and abuse to continue?! WHY? There are sanctuaries for elephants…sanctuaries where people do care, love, and understand elephants…places these fabulous beings can live as authentic a life as possible.RIP you dear beings. You did not deserve to live such sad lives…and you did matter in this big world. :(


  6. August 10, 2011 at 7:32 am, Richard G. said:

    There were some in the Lincoln Park Zoo community who had the same thought about their giving up the will to live. I do recall they all lost weight at LPZ, and one of them–I think it was Wankie–developed that stereotypical, swaying behavior. Tatima, who had a leg injury on, or shortly after, arrival, ended up being rejected by the other two elephants. She was the first to die.

    I don’t know if the elephants are in a better place or not, but the one thing we can be thankful for is that LPZ has not had any elephants since.

    A large measure of blame for this situation must go to San Diego, which discarded the elephants after many years to make room for wild-caught, younger elephants.


  7. August 07, 2011 at 2:08 am, joanne williams said:

    This is terrible. I strongly suspect the elephants actually gave up the will to live any longer and succumbed to their illnesses. I thought zoos were supposed to be a last bastion for endangered species – as usual money always appears more important. That, coupled with what seems to be idiots in charge sealed their fate. Poor things. The only positive – they are in a better place.


  8. August 04, 2011 at 6:54 am, Richard G. said:

    I was a docent at Lincoln Park Zoo for 14 years, and well remember the tragic and untimely deaths of Peaches, Wankie and Tatima, all of whom died within seven months of each other. Wankie was rushed out of the Zoo with much less crate training than was usually given elephants to be transferred. It was widely believed that this was to beat legislation the Chicago City Council was considering to protect elephants (which never passed). Wankie was also pronounced medically fit to travel, which she obviously wasn’t. The Zoo’s chief veterinarian accompanied her on what turned out to be her last trip, and was unwilling or unable to persuade the driver to stop at a zoo along the way after Wankie was found kneeling in the truck. As far as I’m concerned, the vet should have been fired for gross incompetence, but that doesn’t happen to higher-ups at the Zoo. i was so outraged and disheartened by these deaths–and the Zoo’s clumsy efforts to “spin” the situation–that I quit as a docent, and haven’t been back to Lincoln Park Zoo or any other zoo since.

    You note the harsh transition from the moderate temperatures of San Diego to the harsh Chicago winters. I would add that the situation was compounded by the cramped, winter, back quarters the elephants were forced to live in, without even an indoor exhibit space. These are animals which were used to roaming the spacious groundsin San Diego.

    After the elephants died, one of the statements the Zoo made is that African elephants only live about 35 years in the wild, so all of the elephants who died were essentially living on borrowed time. Tell that to Joyce Poole or Cynthia Moss.

    Before these three, the Zoo had a pair of closely-bonded elephants, one African and one Asian, who had grown up together. The Zoo director decided to separate them after their many years together because he wanted what had been the large mammal house to be an African-themed building. The Asian elephant was much loved by visitors–they both were. And it would have been educational to allow visitors to observe the differences between African and Asian elephants.


    • August 04, 2011 at 8:11 pm, Catherine Doyle said:

      Richard, thank you so much for sharing your memories of the events at Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s so important that we don’t forget what happened to all these elephants.

      Catherine Doyle
      Elephant Campaign Director
      In Defense of Animals


    • August 23, 2011 at 11:51 am, Brenda S. said:

      We here in Canada have the sad situation of Lucy, the Asian elephant held alone at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, through long brutal winters in a small concrete enclosure. It is public knowledge that the “expert” consulting veterinarian is Dr. James Oosterhuis, who is described as the principle veterinarian at San Diego Animal Park. This is the same man who opposed Maggie’s move from Anchorage, and he also opposes moving Lucy. So far, legal efforts have failed to help Lucy – I am beginning to think that it is time for Edmonton City council to hear loudly how badly they have been advised. Is this the same man as the person you describe?


  9. August 03, 2011 at 8:11 pm, Betty Cooper said:

    My heart just aches for these precious creatures! Just telling my husband why I haven’t been to the SD Zoo in years due to their disgusting claim of helping animals, when instead they ship them to other places and don’t follow through. Years ago one of their animals was shot in a canned hunt. UNEXCUSABLE and shameful. I will print this and give to him as another reminder of their horrid treatment of animals they exploit. Disgusting!


  10. August 03, 2011 at 5:22 pm, Jeannie Santurri said:

    I find this practice of using these poor animals for the entertainment of others discusting. Treating these elephants and so many other animals in zoos and other venues like they are disposible and not worthy of the life they should be living sickens me to no end. This should be stopped. They need to be protected and live out their lives happy and safe not caged up and not taken care of.


  11. August 03, 2011 at 3:19 pm, Marsha Langaard said:

    What a very sad story. Such a terrible end for these intelligent, magnificent animals.


  12. August 03, 2011 at 8:25 am, alan t woodruff said:

    When money & “no brains” intertwine it usaully is is a good example
    and the expense of GREAT animals..sad


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