Mara, a 20-year-old Grevy’s zebra and veteran resident of the Sacramento Zoo, was euthanized Sunday after experiencing rapidly declining health over the past few weeks, zoo officials said.
“Mara was a quiet and dependable zebra who was happy to follow along with the herd,” zookeeper Melissa McCartney said in a written statement. “At mealtime, she had learned to knock on the shift door to let keepers know she was ready for breakfast and wanted to be let in first.”
Mara was one of five of the endangered zebra species at the zoo, said zoo spokeswoman Tonja Candelaria. The other four are in good health, she said.
Over the past three weeks, zookeepers and veterinarians had been closely monitoring Mara as she became progressively lethargic, had a severe lack of appetite, lost weight and suffered from diarrhea. She was receiving supportive care such as antibiotics and pain medications.
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Tests were inconclusive as to the cause of her condition, according to a news release.
During her last 24 hours, Mara quit eating and drinking. Due to her serious decline and her poor quality of life, the decision was made to euthanize her during a medical examination, officials said. A full necropsy will be performed at UC Davis.
Mara came to the Sacramento Zoo in 2000 from the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The Sacramento Zoo has been home to Grevy’s zebras since 1973.
The zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Grevy’s Zebra Species Survival Plan. The main focus of the plan is captive breeding and educational awareness to prevent extinction of the species.
From 1978 to 1999, 22 foals were born at the zoo.
In 2000, the Sacramento Zoo decided to participate in the Species Survival Plan in a different way, by giving a home to females who are past breeding age or have never conceived with a proven stallion. The nonbreeding females that live at the zoo are animal ambassadors for their species and serve to help educate the public, zoo officials said.
Candelaria said Grevy’s zebras have lived to be up to 30 years old in captivity. Mara was the second-oldest among those at the Sacramento Zoo. Another zebra, Akina, is 24, Candelaria said.
Grevy’s zebras live in a dry, nutrient-poor habitat in Africa.
Their social organization is different from that of other zebras. Intense competition among females for limited resources prevents them from forming long-lasting bonds.
Because they are more solitary, they do not have the safety of a large herd to protect them and they instead rely on excellent hearing, with large ears that can rotate in any direction.
The wild population of Grevy’s zebras has been drastically reduced in the past few decades. Although protected by law, their pelts continue to demand a good price on the black market, zoo officials said. Loss of habitat and competition are also threats to their survival.