Netherlands’ oldest elephant, Irma, dies in Blijdorp aged 53

Irma with baby Bernhardine in 1984. Photo: Marcel Antonisse / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest elephant in the Netherlands and the first to give birth in a Dutch zoo has died at the age of 53.

Blijdorp zoo said Irma had been put to sleep after she visibly deteriorated in the last few weeks, losing weight and becoming isolated from the herd.

She had lost most of her back teeth and was taking painkillers for discomfort in her joints, a spokesman for the zoo told local TV station Rijnmond.

Irma was born in Copenhagen and moved to Blijdorp zoo, near Rotterdam, in 1975 when she was five years old. Nine years later she gave birth to a calf, Bernhardine, the first of six children and 14 grandchildren.

In 2014 a fourth generation arrived, making Irma the first elephant in a western zoo to become a great-grandmother, Blijdorp said. Three more great-grandchildren followed.

Her body was taken to Utrecht University on Monday for an autopsy, after which a decision will be taken on whether to use her skeleton for educational purposes.

Elephant keeper Kasper Willebrandts said: “It wasn’t an easy decision that we had to take together. Irma played an important social role in the Rotterdam elephant family and produced a whole dynasty.

“As a keeper you build up a relationship over several years. That’s how we could see that things were getting more difficult fo her and there was nothing more we could offer her.”

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