By Anna Lee
In her own way, Joy was mourning.
Zoo staffers watched with heavy hearts as the 43-year-old African elephant piled all of her toys to the side of the exhibit and stood next to them in the rain.
“It was the saddest sight,” said Greenville Zoo director Jeff Bullock.
Joy is missing Ladybird, a female elephant that died last week after keepers found her lying down in the barn. Unable to stand, weak and aging, Ladybird was euthanized.
The zoo is now searching for a suitable home to send Joy so she can be with other elephants, but picking the right one isn’t easy, Bullock said.
Current Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards require at least two elephants, he said. The requirement will go up to three elephants in 2016, which is why Greenville had already planned on phasing out its exhibit.
Ideally, Joy would go to a place that’s warmer, where there’s daily enrichment and handlers who can accommodate her special needs.
Bullock said Joy, who came to the zoo in 1977, suffers from an old injury she got from a circus elephant in the 1990s. The elephant, Brittany, repeatedly attacked Joy, leaving her with a sore leg that flares up with pain when it’s cold.
“For her sake, we’d rather have her somewhere where she doesn’t have to deal with that,” Bullock said.
Zoo elephants elsewhere are aging, too, some of them sent to sanctuaries like the one in Hohenwald, Tenn. Other zoos are also looking for elephants, and Joy, soon to be 44, may be too much for those facilities to take on.
“It’s really a matter of seeing what’s available, where our actual choices are and moving forward from there,” Bullock said. No timeline has been set.
Condolences came from around the world when zoo officials announced Ladybird’s death. The Philadelphia Zoo sent flowers; visitors left orchids and daisies.
In the days after, zookeepers have worked hard to get Joy, who they call Joni, back into a routine. They spend extra time with her and have filled the paddock with sand for her to play in.
Joy has already outlived two companions, one of them an elephant at Riverbanks Zoo where she lived while her exhibit was being renovated.
The arrival of Ladybird in 2006 gave the zoo hope.
“Joy had been so acclimated to being with people for so many years, it took her awhile to realize that she was an elephant,” Bullock said. “Ladybird helped her develop those skills and become an elephant.”