LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Ruby the African elephant, who lived for 20 years at the Los Angeles Zoo before being sent to a San Andreas sanctuary in 2007 after years of lobbying by animal-rights activists, has died at age 50, zoo officials announced today.
Ruby died Tuesday, and a necropsy will be performed at UC Davis.
The elephant died about four years after being moved to the 2,300-acre Performing Animal Welfare Society Elephant Sanctuary, where she lived with three other African elephants.
"Ruby became the respected and beloved matriarch of the group of the next few years, and was often seen on top of the hill, ears flared, guarding her companions with the fierce determination of a wild elephant matriarch," according to a statement from the zoo.
"Everyone who worked with Ruby was mesmerized by her beautiful eyes and her gentle disposition. She will be missed by elephants, caregivers and her many fans who were privileged to share her life. At 50 years of age, Ruby was one of the oldest African elephants in captivity," according to the zoo.
Ruby became a focal point of debate at the zoo over the housing of elephants, with animal rights activists pushing for her to be moved to a sanctuary. Bob Barker, a noted animal-rights activist and former host of "The Price is Right," pledged $300,000 in matching funds to support Ruby's care at the sanctuary.
Activists have continued to push city officials to close the elephant exhibit at the zoo, which recently underwent a $42 million renovation. The revamped exhibit, known as Elephants of Asia, opened in December.
The exhibit includes three Asian elephants: 25-year-old Billy and two elephants on loan from the San Diego Zoo -- Tina, who is believed to be between 37 and 44 years old, and Jewel, believed to be between 42 and 47.
Ruby first arrived at the Los Angeles Zoo from Circus Vargas in 1987.
She gained worldwide attention in 2003, when the zoo separated her from an Asian elephant named Gita, her companion of 16 years, and sent her to a zoo in Knoxville, Tenn.
In Knoxville, Ruby didn't get along well with the elephants residing there, prompting then-Mayor Jim Hahn to call for Ruby's return. The zoo kept Ruby off public display since her return in 2004. Gita died in 2006.
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