Six Flags Discovery Kingdom employees were sad to say goodbye to their beloved Asian elephant, Taj, who died on Monday at age 71, making her the oldest elephant in a North American facility at the time of her death, according to the park.
“Taj was a remarkable elephant that touched millions of people over the course of her long life,” park president Dale Kaetzal said in a statement.
The elephant’s exact birth date is unknown, but the Association of Zoos and Aquariums lists her birth year as 1940, according to the park.
The median life expectancy for Asian elephants is 44.8 years, park spokeswoman Nancy Chan said.
The first 30 years of Taj’s life are a mystery. She was first mentioned in records was in 1970, when she became a lead elephant for Circus Vargas.
Taj traveled the country as a performing circus elephant until 1976, when she was given to the Hari Krishna religious group, which used her as a symbolic part of their ceremonies, Chan said.
She was too mischievous and energetic for the Hari Krishnas to handle, so they sent her to Southern California’s Moorpark College, where she was featured in their exotic animal training management program.
In 1978, she was transferred to Marine World–the original name of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom when it was located in Redwood City–and moved with the park when it relocated to Vallejo. There she spent years as the park’s primary animal ambassador, interacting with and performing for guests.
Taj became an “auntie” to the younger elephants because of her nurturing nature and strong maternal instincts, Chan said.
She also learned to paint with a brush in the late 1990s and created many canvas paintings, according to the park.
Employees and trainers described her as personable, easygoing, and trusting of the trainers she’d worked with for years and with whom she’d formed a strong bond.
“Taj is the kind of unique soul you hope to be lucky enough to encounter once in your lifetime,” said Nick Way, senior elephant trainer.
A necropsy will be performed at the University of California, Davis, and the results will be used for years for research studies involving elephants, the park said.