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Ambika Dies at 72

Ambika, the oldest Asian elephant at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was euthanized Friday. She was 72 and had been in ill health with complications from osteoarthritis.

When I won a National Zoo photography contest in the 1980's for this photo, my mother said, "nice camera.” Elephant footprints are as unique as people's faces. I recall seeing a newspaper photo many years later of her herd and recognized Ambika by her toes.

For the past 59 years, Ambika had been integral to the Zoo’s campaign to save Asian elephants from extinction. Female Asian elephants in human care typically live into their mid-40s.


“Ambika truly was a giant among our conservation community,” said Steven Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “For the past five decades, Ambika served as both an ambassador and a pioneer for her species. It is not an exaggeration to say that much of what scientists know about Asian elephant biology, behavior, reproduction and ecology is thanks to Ambika’s participation in our conservation-research studies. Firsthand, she helped shape the collective knowledge of what elephants need to survive and thrive both in human care and the wild. Her extraordinary legacy and longevity are a testament to our team, whose professionalism and dedication to Ambika’s well-being and quality of life exemplifies the critical work our community does to save these animals from extinction.”