Buki, the oldest Asian elephant at the Buffalo Zoo, may be in her last days.
Over the last couple of weeks, zookeepers have become alarmed at the 52-year-old pachyderm's sudden loss of weight and appetite. Blood tests have shown her kidneys are not functioning properly, although she's not in kidney failure.
"This could be the beginning of the end," zoo President Donna M. Fernandes reported Saturday.
But she said all hope is not lost.
"We're hoping she'll rally," she said. "It's hard to know if this a phase and she'll plateau, or if it's the beginning of a serious decline."
Buki (pronounced Boo-Key) came to the Buffalo Zoo in 1984. She had previously performed with the Cristiani Bros. Circus for 25 years. She got her name from her sponsorship by Burger King.
She has long been a crowd favorite, with her sweet and gentle disposition.
"She was always the most well-behaved," Fernandes said. Buki starred in her own bath time demonstration.
The average life expectancy of a female Asian elephant in a zoo is 44.8 years, similar to life expectancy in the wild, according to a study published in Zoo Biology.
"It's rare they get past the late 50s," Fernandes said.
The elephant keepers were bittersweet in celebrating Buki's 50th birthday two years ago, knowing her days were likely numbered.
Buki had shown some signs of slowing down over the last couple of years. They stopped her "Bathtime with Buki" show about a year ago because she was starting to have a hard time lying down and getting up.
Then a couple of weeks ago, she began refusing to eat hay, which she used to love. She would only eat fruit and vegetables.
Fernandes explained that elephants need hay, grasses and leaves to aid their digestion. So zookeepers have been allowing Buki to feast all she wants on fresh grasses and leaves growing on trees behind the elephant barn. Zoo keepers are also giving Buki cooked rice to keep her nourished.
Buki has been happy about her new dining experience, Fernandes said, but she still continues to lose weight.
Zookeepers have also been struggling to get Buki to take her medicine. They've tried hiding the medicine in apples and peanut butter.
Buki has been spending less time outside her barn but does come out from time to time where visitors can see her and she can socialize with the zoo's other two elephants, Jothi and Surapa, Fernandes said. But there's no guarantee Buki will be on display for people wanting to see her for perhaps the last time.
The zoo president said the public is welcome to send get-well cards to Buki.
"I'm sure the zookeepers would appreciate it," she said. "They're putting in long hours and they're sad. It's like losing a close pet."
Cards can be sent to the zoo at 300 Parkside Ave., Buffalo NY 14214.