Sheena, the Phoenix Zoo’s Elderly Asian Elephant, Passes Away

It is with a heavy heart that we let you know of the passing of Sheena, the Zoo’s 50-year-old Asian elephant this morning. Her dedicated and caring keepers found her laying down in her barn and unable to rise, and she passed shortly after of natural causes. Sheena has recently been stable but has been carefully managed for many years for chronic osteoarthritis and gastrointestinal issues.

Sheena has been at the Zoo for 21 amazing years where she won the hearts of her keepers, our members and guests alike. She arrived at the Zoo in 2000 from the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation.

“Sheena was the ‘sneaky one,’” says Heather Wright, Manager of Elephants. “She wasn’t outwardly rambunctious, but we’d hear her playing with toys in the barn, and when we’d come around the corner to watch her, she would freeze and give a look like ‘What? It wasn’t me!’ and act innocent. It was so funny! Sheena was incredibly intelligent, extremely sweet and she seemed to love everybody.”

There were times elephant keepers were hosting end-of-life tours for people who had a “last wish” to see our remarkable Asian elephants, and Sheena would gravitate to that particular person and offer out a kind and insightful “rumble,” to which guests would comment they felt a deep connection with her. “It was a beautiful thing to witness,” says Wright. “She will be sorely missed by all her caretakers here at the Zoo, as well as our members and guests.”

Sheena at the Phoenix Zoo

Sheena has been at the Zoo for twenty-one years and had lived near Indu (age 56) and Reba, who passed in April of 2020. The average life span for Asian elephants is 45 years old.

While elephants are typically found in herds of related individuals, our females all came from different backgrounds and had shown their keepers through their actions that they preferred to be apart. A dedicated keeper team spent their days caring for, rotating them into various habitats, performing husbandry routines, providing enrichment among numerous other specific duties to ensure the best possible care for the elephants.

Most recently, Sheena and Indu received a new “neighbor” – Chutti, the greater one-horned rhino from the Fresno Chaffe Zoo. Sheena was starting to warm up to him, still admiring him from afar since they were in separate habitats. The Zoo has no plans currently to acquire another elephant. Indu will continue to receive the utmost care from her keepers.

Asian Elephant Conservation

Native to 13 countries throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, Asian elephants are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. Conservation scientists estimate the total population to be between 30,000 and 50,000 individuals. Due to their need for large areas of sustainable habitat, Asian elephants are considered an umbrella species – their survival helps to maintain biological diversity and ecology over the large areas. 

About the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation

The Arizona Center for Nature Conservation operates the Phoenix Zoo. The ACNC advances the stewardship and conservation of animals and their habitats while providing experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world.

The Phoenix Zoo is the only zoo in the Valley accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a non-profit zoological park, serving 1.4 million guests annually. The Zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals, many of which are endangered and threatened species. For information on upcoming events, exhibits and activities at the Phoenix Zoo, visit www.phoenixzoo.org.

 

~ Quotes and memories
from Sheena's caretakers ~

I’ve known Sheena for a little over 21 years now, which seems like such a long time but it also seems like just yesterday I first saw her beautiful face.

Sheena- I will never forget the first time I saw you in the truck when you arrived here at the zoo. Watching you explore your newfound freedom was something I will cherish forever. Your cleverness in always being the first to figure out all the new enrichment items, your unending forgiveness and love for us humans who probably never truly deserved it, just your overall sweetness and pureness- you truly were amazing. I will forever miss your quiet rumble and silly squeaks, your signature “glunk” sound when you were excited, joking how you had narcolepsy when you would be in the middle of something and then just decide to take a nap instead, you blowing impatiently when people just weren’t feeding you as quickly as you expected them too, and just spending countless quiet moments with you- which there were so many but I now realize there weren’t enough. I miss you so much it hurts, I hope you know how much you were loved and cherished my big, beautiful girl….

I just don’t know what words could ever actually describe what a special being Sheena was. I’ve known her for 9+ years and am certain I will never know another soul like hers. She had a quiet demeanor but such a strong presence. She persevered through a lot of circumstances and has taught me so much about what it means to be brave. She loved the quiet moments. The one-on-one times I’ve had with her are some of the most special memories I have. I already miss those moments. She loved when I sang to her. Only certain songs though. Some of her favorites were “All I want for Christmas is you” by Mariah Carey and “Wouldnt it be nice” by The Beach Boys. She would just watch me and rumble when I sang those songs to her. She was the sweetest girl and always seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. She had her sassy moments, which only made it better when she was sweet. She was the very best elephant, one of my very best friends. She was family. 

Sheena Bean – I love you and I miss you. My life is better for having known you. Give Reba my love and come say hi. Bye beans. 

Sheena was special.  There really is no other way to describe her.  She had this way of looking at you and I swear she was staring into your soul.  I will miss that everyday.   I will miss our special quiet moments, just the two of us when she would rumble her soft, sweet rumbles.   I will miss her squeak that could make anyone smile.   I will miss the way she was always a creep.  I will miss her fuzzy head and her shaky trunk.  She was smart and gentle with a side of sass.  We aren’t supposed to have favorites but Sheena has always been mine.  She is so loved. She is my girl. She is my heart. 

Sweet Sheena, words cannot express how much you’ve changed my life. Your kindness, your stubbornness, your calming energy and your strength to overcome. I’ll forever cherish our silent conversations and the memory of you running full speed into the holding yard to spin around in circles of joy. I’ll miss your happy squeaks and your perfectly timed naps when you didn’t want to shift. You’ve taught me so many valuable lessons, not only as a keeper, but as a woman. Thank you for welcoming me into your heart. Thank you for your love. Enjoy all the corn the universe has to offer. I’ll see you again my dear friend.

I am grateful for the short amount of time I got to spend with Sheena and the lessons I have learned in caring for her. She is a sweet and gentle spirit with an understanding beyond words. I will never forget my talks with her and her flapping her fuzzy ears in response.

 

Sheena, I will miss the view of you looking down, intently listening, with only the type of understanding that comes from such a powerful and intelligent being.

 

 Her passing is a great loss for this world and a great gain for the next.

Dear Sheena,

I never thought beyond the obvious, that I’d relate to an elephant so much. A love of food, and naps, on the hairy side, were things I already knew and loved about you when I started working at the zoo.

You gave me so much. Your willingness to say hi to me my first day, made me feel like maybe I could do this job. Getting to give you a drink all by myself was so exciting, and you made that possible. Your innocent look when someone would walk into the barn when you were trying to be sneaky and grab at me never failed to make me laugh.

Not to mention nervous farting.

Thank you for your unending patience with me while I learned the ropes with you.

Seeing you have the courage to be so brave constantly surprised and inspired me to do the same.

Thank you for making me a keeper.

Thank you for being my friend.

Love, Madison