Remembering Rosie

With great sadness, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee announces the passing of African elephant Rosie, age 47.

Rosie retired to The Sanctuary in November of 2015 from The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere after more than four decades spent living in different zoos in the southeastern United States. She shared The Sanctuary's Africa habitat with Tange, Flora, Hadari, and Sukari. Arriving with numerous chronic joint and foot conditions that limited her mobility, Rosie quickly acclimated to The Sanctuary environment and wasted no time amazing The Sanctuary staff with her toughness and determination to make the most out of each day—exploring her new habitat and its mud wallows, helping herself to Sukari's food, and forming new relationships. In early December, the progression of Rosie’s irreversible chronic conditions and associated pain increased. She was closely monitored by the Veterinary Team and treated to ensure her comfort.


Rosie was born wild in Africa in 1969. Captured and imported to the United States in 1971, Rosie changed owners several times before arriving at the Jackson Zoo in Jackson, Mississippi in 1977. Juno, another African female elephant, joined her there in 1982. Rosie and Juno lived together at the Jackson Zoo until 2010, when they were transferred to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. At the Nashville Zoo, they joined African elephants Hadari and Sukari. Juno died in the spring of 2015. Hadari retired to The Sanctuary in September of same year. Sukari and Rosie followed in November. Rosie arrived at The Sanctuary with a long list of medical needs requiring constant care and attention. She had a variety of health issues including chronic, progressive joint disease and recurring abscesses in her nails. Individualized health care innovative barn renovations, including a sand stall, helped improve Rosie's overall health in a relatively short period of time.

Tuskless, with a crooked tail and narrow, short trunk, Rosie was easy to identify among the African elephants at The Sanctuary. Rosie most often spent time with Sukari. Although she was bigger, younger, and stronger…Sukari always yielded to Rosie. Rosie frequently displayed her dominance by displacing Sukari if food, browse, or hay was left in their shared vicinity. 

Rosie and Sukari

Rosie's needs were the greatest within the African herd, and the The Sanctuary Husbandry Staff were continually inventing new strategies to improve her quality of life. Two feet of sand were added to her stall inside the heated Africa barn to provide further comfort for Rosie's feet and joints. Almost as if to signal her approval, Rosie was soon lying down to sleep, something she had not done in over 10 years. The Sanctuary's Facilities Staff created small mounds of dirt in Rosie's Annex Yard in with the hope that the climbing of the miniature hills would help Rosie build muscle.

Soon after arriving, Rosie displayed interest the other elephants at The Sanctuary and with Tange in particular. After months of observing playful interactions at the fence separating Sukari and Rosie from Tange, Caregivers decided it was time for the three to share space. The three elephants grazing together in the habitat soon became a common sight on The Sanctuary's live-streaming EleCams. In August of 2016, a 60-acre expansion was added to the Africa Habitat, and the three elephants explored the new space together.

Tange, Sukari, and Rosie

Final Days

At 46-years-old, Rosie was the African elephant requiring the most care and attention due to several chronic health conditions. In early December, Rosie began exhibiting signs of increasing discomfort. Veterinary and Husbandry Staff made adjustments to Rosie’s care. Radiographs revealed progressive foot infection necessitating surgical intervention. On December 16, a five-person veterinary team led by Dr. Ed Ramsey from the University of Tennessee assisted The Sanctuary's Veterinary and Husbandry Teams in a veterinary procedure to treat areas associated with progressive, chronic foot disease. The procedure and recovery went well and over the next weeks, staff noted Rosie’s full cooperation in her care and treatments and overall improved comfort.

On Thursday, December 29, Rosie fell and could not get up on her own. Care Staff were able to assist her to stand. She was continually monitored by Veterinary and Husbandry Staff who noted a visible decline in overall health and her inability to remain standing, even with assistance. Due to decreasing quality of life, the decision was made to humanely euthanize. Rosie passed peacefully on Saturday, December 31, 2016 surrounded by those who loved her. Sukari and Tange were nearby and given an opportunity to visit her body. The Sanctuary is honored to have had the opportunity to give Rosie her final home during her time with us.

Dr. Rita McManaman, University of Georgia's Director of Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service, and staff led the necropsy team. “Preliminary findings in Rosie’s necropsy indicate her rapid decline was due to complications of chronic bone and joint disease with acute complications limiting her ability to stand and walk,” said Dr. Steve Scott, DVM, Director of Veterinary Care at The Elephant Sanctuary. “Unfortunately, these are serious and irreversible diseases commonly seen among elephants in captivity.”

It is The Elephant Sanctuary's policy to perform necropsies on all deceased elephants to gain knowledge that will benefit the entire elephant care community.

Rosie was loved by all and her absence is deeply felt. We will continue to honor and celebrate her remarkable life and the impact she had on the entire Sanctuary family, elephants and staff alike.

Gifts made in memory of Rosie will help provide other captive elephants the opportunity to live out their lives in a spacious natural habitat with companionship of an elephant herd. 

You may leave a written tribute to Rosie below.

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