Elephants around Varda
Elephants around VardaSafari Spokesperson

Loud calls that were heard on Sunday morning from the courtyard of the Asian elephants brought the trainers running, and what they saw was heartbreaking, but not unexpected.

Without any early signs, except for her very advanced age, Varda, the elderly Asian elephant had collapsed in the courtyard and was lying on the ground.

When the trainers saw the herd of elephants crowding around the elderly elephant lying on the ground, they already understood what had happened. Representatives at the safari says that the incident was expected, because Varda had reached the ripe old age of 66 – about a decade beyond the lifespan of Asian elephants in zoos.

Four elephants standing around Varda tried in vain to encourage her to get up. They tried in every possible way to help her stand on her feet, pulling and pushing with their trunk and legs.

The safari workers who came from all other areas of the Safari, also tried to help stand the elephant up, but were witness to this sad and emotional sight.

A crane was used to bring a large bale of hay, to provide Varda with support. When that didn't help, the workers used a tractor to pile a large mound of dirt to support Verda's back and help her stand up. But nothing helped. Varda had lost her strength.

In the end the safari team had to make the most difficult decision a zoo can make – euthanasia. The Safari reported that, "As befitting an elephant, this was an act of kindness. After all, such a death can occur after many days of suffering. Even in the wild, many elephants die lying down after they can no longer stand on their feet, and there they meet their inevitable death."

Hila Feldman Gera, spokeswoman for the Safari, said: "We are comforted by the fact that we were able to shorten the time that Varda was lying helpless on the ground, as her breathing became heavier and slower than usual. Elephants cannot lie on the ground vertically, because their weight makes it difficult for them to breathe.”

After Varda took her last breath, the elephants in the herd were given a chance to see and understand that she was dead, and to say goodbye to her. The elephants did it as only elephants know how, with deafening calls that left no one untouched. They passed her one by one and each touched her with their trunk.

Verda was brought to the Safari when the Tel Aviv Zoo was closed, together with the male elephant Motek, who died about two years ago. The two young elephants came to the Tel Aviv Zoo in 1962.

Over their years at the safari, Varda and her partner Motek raised ten healthy offspring, that are currently located in zoos around the world and serve as ambassadors for this wonderful species that is constantly under a threat of extinction.