San Antonio Zoo’s last remaining ‘Golden Girls’ elephant dies at Tennessee sanctuary

Nicole, 48, was euthanized on April 20 due to worsening health conditions

San Antonio Zoo’s Asian elephant Nicole (San Antonio Zoo)

SAN ANTONIO – Nicole the elephant, the last of the “Golden Girls” at the San Antonio Zoo, has died at a Tennessee sanctuary.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee recently announced that Nicole had to be euthanized on April 20 due to her worsening health conditions. She moved there in March for the companionship of a herd and individualized care, as previous San Antonio Zoo elephants, Karen and Lucky, passed in 2022.

Nicole was 48 years old and had a chronic foot disease, osteomyelitis, degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis and septic arthritis, which hindered her mobility.

“Although it is absolutely the hardest part of the work we do, we are committed to ensuring that geriatric elephants are provided with comfort and dignity,” Dr. Lydia Young, DVM at The Elephant Sanctuary, said in a news release.

Young added that Nicole “won our hearts within hours of arrival” and they had hoped she would live for several more years.

The release states that Nicole was given multimodal pain control, antibiotics and foot care, and modifications were made for her comfort. That included adding sand on rocky trails and creating a “lean-to” rest and vertical hammock.

Her health rapidly declined and staff realized that her front feet and legs could not support her, and medications could not control the pain, the release states. She was humanely euthanized after consultation with the San Antonio Zoo.

She was the remaining elephant of the zoo’s well-known herd dubbed the “Golden Girls.”

The girls were together from 2016 until Karen and Lucky’s passing. The trio brought millions closer to Asian Elephants, and their caring nature, the San Antonio Zoo said in March

“We are going to miss Nicole dearly,” Tim Morrow, president and CEO of the San Antonio Zoo, said at the time. “We are grateful for the years she spent with us as one of the Golden Girls. She and Karen bonded beyond expectations with Lucky and inspired visitors to care for and want to protect elephants from extinction.”

San Antonio Zoo’s Asian herd coined as the "Golden Girls." (San Antonio Zoo)

The zoo said the animal care team worked with Nicole to prepare her for the 800-mile move to Tennessee.

The Elephant Sanctuary is the nation’s largest natural-habitat refuge, located on 3,060 acres in Hohenwald, developed specifically to provide for elephants as they age, according to the release.

Although Nicole was the last remaining elephant in her group, Morrow said elephants will return to the zoo in the future.

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Victoria Lopez is a Digital Journalist at KSAT. Before joining the team in July 2022, she worked as a Digital Reporter at CBS 4 Rio Grande Valley and Local 23 News. Victoria graduated with a degree in Mass Communications — Public Relations from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.