Elephant Irma has passed away at the respectable age of 53. For her well-being, a joint decision was made by the veterinarian and caregivers that it was time to let her go, a difficult but considered choice. For years, Irma had been battling health issues, and her condition rapidly declined in recent weeks. She had lost significant weight and become quite withdrawn. Moreover, she was missing large parts of her molars crucial for grinding food. She had been on painkillers for quite some time due to joint issues. Clearly, she was distancing herself more and more from the herd.
The other members of the group had a chance to say their goodbyes in the outdoor enclosure. Early this morning, her body was taken to Utrecht University for autopsy. It's possible that her skeleton or bone material will be used for educational purposes. Irma was the oldest zoo-born elephant in the Netherlands. Without a doubt, caregivers and regular visitors will deeply miss her. For forty-eight years, she was one of the most iconic residents of Blijdorp Zoo. After the farewell, the other elephants resumed their usual activities, but they too will likely need time to adjust to her absence.
Elephant caregiver Kasper Willebrandts shared, “It wasn't an easy decision we had to make collectively. Irma played a significant social role in the Rotterdam elephant family, leaving behind a legacy. As a caregiver, you build a bond over the years. We saw how things got increasingly tough for her and realized there was no way out.”
Irma was born on September 18, 1970, in Copenhagen and came to Blijdorp on September 17, 1975, thanks to the Friends of Blijdorp Association. In 1984, she made history as the first elephant in a Dutch zoo to give birth to a calf, named Bernhardine. By 2014, she became a great-grandmother, a milestone believed to be a world-first for Western zoos. Over the years, her family expanded significantly, with six offspring, fourteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. On her 50th birthday, she was adopted by the Friends of Blijdorp due to the special bond they've always shared with Irma and her lineage.
As the oldest and most experienced elephant, Irma often took the lead in the Blijdorp family during special occasions. This was especially evident during births when she'd adopt the role of the grandmother, protecting the newborn calves, ensuring peace and order. Even as the calves grew, she maintained a protective grandmotherly role. In recent years, she had taken a backseat, cherishing her quiet moments. Her daughter, Bangka, gradually took over the leading role. Currently, Blijdorp is home to four elephants from the Irma lineage: adult females Faya and Bangka, and two young males, Radjik and Maxi.
Blijdorp Zoo oversees the European conservation program for Asian elephants, a species that has disappeared from 85% of its original habitat. Blijdorp also collaborates with Wageningen University and Research on a comprehensive study into the genetic health of Asian elephants. Various European zoos provide blood samples from elephants for this research, working alongside the Wildlife Institute of India. In this way, Blijdorp contributes to the survival of this iconic endangered species and to the preservation of biodiversity.