Oakland Zoo Mourns Loss of African Elephant, Lisa, Age 46

Oakland Zoo
March 27, 2023

Oakland, CA - March 27, 2023… After several years of chronic and degenerative health issues despite progressive treatments and cutting-edge therapies, Lisa, Oakland Zoo’s elderly 46-year-old African elephant, was humanely euthanized yesterday due to irreversible worsening of those health issues, which had been compounded by recently developed ventral edema.

Lisa came to Oakland Zoo in 1979, and her decades-long residency has deeply impacted her dedicated keepers, veterinary team, staff, volunteers, and millions of Zoo guests. She was one of only sixteen female African Elephants 46 years and older in AZA-accredited zoos; and her geriatric years brought on several age-related afflictions including ongoing eye ulcers, progressing degenerative arthritis, foot and nail lesions, and in the past few weeks, ventral edema causing excessive fluid retention in her belly which then caused internal and external vaginal ulcers.  

We are heartbroken. Over the years long course of care and treatments to provide her a good quality of life through multimodal pain control, her disease progressed to a point where we didn’t want her last day to be her worst day, and it was time to do the most humane thing and to let her go.  This was the best thing for Lisa, but the most painful and heart wrenching for all her Zoo family and the Bay Area community that has loved her for decades,” said Dr. Alex Herman, VP of Veterinary Services at Oakland Zoo.

Lisa’s progressive arthritis first presented itself in 2013, and with her care plan constantly evolving as her arthritis progressed, by 2021 a multimodal medical treatment plan was put into place based on her needs.

In the past several months her degenerative arthritis became debilitating enough to affect her mobility to the point she began avoiding bending her body to lie down and rest, even to sleep, in her heated elephant barn. Her care team made several efforts to provide Lisa with modifications to her sleep area that would help assist her in lying down and getting back to her feet, but there was very limited success. Ultimately, her increased standing brought about recurring foot and nail lesions.  

Lisa’s ongoing care team has consisted of Oakland Zoo veterinarians, animal care staff, and experts in the field including ophthalmologists, physical therapists, arthritis researchers and specialists, wildlife behaviorists, and consulting veterinarians from other AZA-accredited zoos. Her medical care plan included physical therapy, pain medication, laser treatments, cryotherapy, and daily foot soaks in Epsom salt, and two cutting-edge stem cell procedures in October 2022 and January of this year, in partnership with researchers and veterinarians from Michigan State University. The procedures involved infusing stem cells from a healthy elephant into Lisa’s bloodstream in hope of alleviating her arthritic inflammation, restoring cartilage, and easing her general discomfort. While Lisa showed signs of improvement from the stem cell procedures with some improved mobility, her limbs and joints remained quite stiff and continued declining in the winter months.

Oakland Zoo staff and volunteers are deeply mourning the loss. Elephant zookeepers recently arranged a celebration of her 46th birthday by presenting her with a large spread of treats, enrichment, and pinatas filled with her favorite fruits.

Lisa has been a deeply beloved part of our Oakland Zoo family since 1979. She was truly special to me, and to all of us here. Her loss is felt by so many, especially her closely bonded elephant keepers. We’ll miss her greatly,” said Colleen Kinzley, VP of Animal Care, Conservation and Research at Oakland Zoo.

Lisa was transported last evening to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for necropsy.  

Oakland Zoo has been a decades-long advocate for elephants in captivity and in the wild.  Supporting several elephant conservation partners in Africa including the long-standing Amboseli Trust for Elephants; and working with the Human Society of the United States and PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) sanctuary, Oakland Zoo lobbied for the successful passing of SB 1062 and SB 313 in 2016 to ban the cruel use of bull hooks on elephants in California. 



Oakland Zoo, home to more than 850 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); anon-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community in Taking Action for Wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums(AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.