KEY POINTS

  • Tyranza was born in the wild in 1964
  • She was brought to Memphis Zoo at the age of 12
  • She loved munching on watermelons, bananas, and the occasional jellybean

The oldest African elephant in North America has died at the age of 56, Memphis Zoo announced on Friday.

In a statement, the zoo said that the elephant, named Tyranza, was being closely monitored after her health began to decline dramatically. The authorities had to put her down Friday "to avoid any suffering."

Tyranza, who was born in the wild in 1964, was brought to Memphis Zoo at the age of 12 after her short stint as a circus elephant.

Tyranza, who was also called Ty by the zoo staff had "set the record for the longest-lived African elephant in North America as well. When she reached her golden years, keepers and veterinary staff regularly adjusted her exhibit and daily routine, but she remained a formidable presence in the barn as well as in our herd until the end," the zoo said in the statement, adding that she loved munching on watermelons, bananas, and the occasional jellybean. 

Matt Thompson, Chief Zoological Officer, paid tribute to the elephant and said, "Many generations of Zoo fans and even some employees haven’t known a Memphis Zoo without Tyranza. She was the toughest marshmallow you could ever meet. I will miss her calm, steady presence."

The zoo also posted a YouTube video paying tribute to the elephant. 

Meanwhile, Houston Winbigler, who was one of the first people to meet the elephant and worked with her for almost four decades, recalled the initial moments after Tyranza was brought to the zoo. Winbigler said it took the animal some time to get used to her new home.

"Through consistency and fairness, Ty quickly settled into a routine that included a permanent home and only three regular Keepers. After a couple of years of working with Ty, we were able to become friends and she remains one of my most valued friends," Winbigler recalled in the statement. 

"Ty is a very wise and intelligent being. She is a master of reading people and is capable of completely humiliating the arrogant or comforting the humble. I have worked with chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. I have also closely worked around ten elephants. There is something, a knowing presence and mental acuity that Ty possessed that was unique. Ty has taught me more about fairness and trust than any being I’ve ever met," Winbigler added.

The zoo stated that anyone who wishes to pay tribute to Tyranza may "leave cards and flowers at the elephant statue on the Zoo’s front plaza starting Saturday."

African elephant An African elephant grazes in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Photo: Jim Richardson/Getty Images