“Danda-Loo,’’ the lovable koala with fluffy ears, a pink-tipped nose and who made its home in eucalyptus trees, was euthanized Saturday at Zoo Miami, zoo officials announced Monday.
At nearly 20, she was the oldest koala in North America and Europe.
“The older generation of our animals are aging out,’’ Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill said. “The reality is, many of our animals have been here since we first opened the zoo in 1981, and have reached or surpassed their natural lifespan.’’
Danda-Loo had been in declining health over last seven months. She had been receiving treatments that included laser therapy for severe arthritis.
Even though the treatments initially seemed to help, her appetite diminished drastically, Magill said. Despite supplemental feeding and pain medication therapy, she lost a lot of weight and normal daily activity had become extremely difficult, zoo officials said.
"The loss of Danda-Loo is bittersweet in that we will miss her and her passing will leave a void that will result in profound sadness,” Magill said. "But we are also quite proud to know that we provided the love and care that enabled this beautiful animal to become one of the oldest koalas in the world, where for many years she inspired countless visitors to care about the wonders of wildlife.”
The average lifespan for a female koala is 13 to 18 years.
The koala’s passing is one of several high-profile deaths at the zoo in recent years, including JJ, a silverback gorilla; Asha, a lioness; and Carlita, a white Bengal tiger.
In a special report that aired in May on CBS4, reporter Jim DeFede examined the deaths at the zoo over the past few years and found only two cases when “the zoo’s failures led to the unnecessary death of an animal.’’
In 2012, the zoo euthanized an Arabian oryx (antelope) after staffers failed to properly diagnose a parasite, and in 2013, a camel managed to slip his head into a hole in a chain-link fence, fell and died the next day from injuries, CBS4 reported.
Danda-Loo was born on Oct. 16, 1995, at Busch Gardens in Tampa. She came to Zoo Miami on April 12, 2007, as part of the Koala Education and Conservation Program (KECP) managed by the San Diego Zoo. The koala exhibit at Zoo Miami will be closed for the time being.
According to Magill, 70 mammals have died at Zoo Miami over the past two years, and 85 were born (excluding bats).
Magill, who has worked at the zoo since it opened, said the deaths “are part of life’’ and can “occur for a variety of reasons.’’
“It could be of old age, from a disease, congenital problems, lung defects. It could be that some don't survive after birth, or that eventually some are euthanized for the better,’’ he said. “But that's one of our biggest challenges, making the decision on when quality of life is irreversible. It's the same situation with your cat or dog, or with family members. It’s really hard.’’
Some of the animals that have died in recent years include:
▪ Mohan, a 44-year-old Indian rhinoceros, died in 2013 from old age. Mohan was believed to be the oldest rhino in captivity, Magill said at the time.
▪ JJ, a silverback gorilla, died in 2014. He was 35 and had a long history of cardiovascular disease. He slipped into a coma.
▪ Asha, a 4-year-old lioness, died from cardiac arrest in 2014. Asha was mother of the first lion cub born at Zoo Miami.
▪ Maude, a 41-year-old Asian elephant, died in 2013 from an impacted digestive tract after eating a significant amount of sand and clay.
▪ Tevi, a Malaysian tigress, died in 2013 after a battle with liver failure.
▪ King George, a 16-year-old rare king cheetah, died in 2014 from pancreatitis and diabetes.
▪ Fezzik, a 17-year-old giraffe, went into cardiac arrest in 2014 during hoof surgery.
▪ Sarafina, a 16-year-old camel, was euthanized this year after suffering severe arthritis.
▪ Carlita, a 21-year-old white Bengal tiger, was euthanized in 2013 after deteriorating health.
▪ And a baby okapi, which died hours after being born. Zoo Miami had been eagerly awaiting the birth of the okapi, a rare relative of the giraffe from the forests of Central Africa. The okapi was born on April 10, but the newborn was severely underweight and very weak.
Rob Vernon, spokesman for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums — which accredits zoos and aquariums across the country — said Monday that euthanization is the most common way zoos put down their animals.
"Most of the times, zoos need to make that difficult decision,’’ Vernon said, “and there are a host of reasons why."
Vernon added that it's hard to say exactly why animals die, and how many animals die at a particular zoo.
"It could be a variety of factors of why that happens. My understating is that Zoo Miami has an aging population of animals, and at some point, all animals die," Vernon said. "But every zoo is unique, what may happen at one, may not happen at another. And at the end it could be a series of unusual or usual occurrences. You can't generalize it."
Magill agreed, adding that euthanization is common because the animals often surpass their normal lifespans because they don’t face predators.
"It's bittersweet," he said. "But all zoos have deaths. All institutions have deaths because all things die. I want people to know that the zoo is not Disney World. We don’t have animatronic animals that do the same thing all day. We have living animals and it's a real place."
As for Danda-Loo, she spent most of her time recently curled up in her eucalyptus tree in her air-conditioned habitat behind glass, fast asleep.
Magill said the animal keepers were in tears as she was “laid to rest.’’
"Unfortunately this is not going to be the last marquee-type animal that will pass away at Zoo Miami," he said. "We have several animals now that are very, very old, somewhat iconic, and reality is that their time will come too."