Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sick elephant put down at Paignton Zoo in Devon

Gay wearing special shoe
Gay, who had severe foot abscesses and arthritis, joined the zoo in 1977

A four-tonne Asian elephant which has spent more than 30 years at a zoo in Devon has been put down because of abscesses on her feet.

Gay joined Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in 1977 and, with African elephant Duchess, proved popular with visitors.

She first developed abscesses on her front feet in 2008 but her back feet also became so infected that last year she was given special shoes to wear.

The zoo said putting Gay down had been a difficult decision.

Neil Bemment, director of operations and mammals curator, said: "It was not an easy decision but it was the right decision.

"Our vet team and animal staff did absolutely everything they could.

'Very sad'

"We tried a range of treatments and consulted any number of experts but it became clear that we had done everything we could for her and that there was no option but to put her to sleep.

"It is very, very sad but we know that we have done the right thing for her. The welfare of the animal is paramount."

A post-mortem examination is being carried out on Gay, who also had arthritis, to allow vets learn more about the species. She will then be taken away and cremated.

Zoo spokesman Philip Knowling said: "Although elephants are herd animals, our remaining elephant, Duchess, has eyesight problems so we will not be introducing another elephant for fear of her being bullied.

"She has also been here since 1977 and knows the layout really well so it wouldn't be fair to move her to another zoo either because it would be hard for her to find her way around because of her cataracts.

"We took her to visit Gay after she had died and she was able to touch her.

"We are monitoring her closely and giving her lots of attention and mental stimulation to help keep her occupied."

A book of condolences in memory of Gay has been set up at the zoo for people to sign.



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