16 Sep 2020

It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share news of the death of Asian elephant, Thi Hi Way.

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Thi, who was the long-time matriarch of the family herd of Asian elephants at Chester Zoo, had been living with arthritis which was linked to her early years spent in a logging camp in Myanmar.

Elephant care experts at the charity zoo had, for some time, been helping her with daily medication and innovative hydrotherapy sessions but, sadly, the treatment programme finally began to lose effect. Following a period of intensive end-of-life care and an irreversible decline in her condition, the hugely difficult decision was made to put her to sleep.

Thi was a great grandmother and had given birth to several calves in her time, including Assam in 2000 and Anjan in 2018.

Conservationists have paid tribute to the “extraordinary legacy” she’s left on the endangered species.

“This is a truly heart-breaking day. Generations of zoo visitors and the vast majority of our staff have never known a Chester Zoo without great grandmother elephant, Thi Hi Way. She was deeply loved and will be enormously missed. Thi was a giant within the global conservation community.

While today is terribly sad, we also look back and celebrate her life and remember the hugely positive impact she’s had – not just on the multi-generational family herd here at Chester but on Asian elephant research, understanding and conservation, globally.

Thi had a big personality. She was a real ambassador for her species and, in many ways, a pioneer. A great deal of what conservationists know about Asian elephant biology and behaviour and the way that these remarkable animals live and reproduce has been learnt from Thi and her offspring. She has greatly enhanced our collective knowledge of this wonderful species and leaves an extraordinary legacy, one which has benefitted, and will continue to benefit, Asian elephants everywhere.

“Chester Zoo is at the forefront of the fight for endangered Asian elephants and Thi will always be remembered as an integral part of that.”

Mike Jordan, Director of Animals and Plants at Chester Zoo

Thi’s exact date of birth is not known as she was born in Myanmar where she spent several years living in a logging camp before being rescued by conservationists working for London Zoo. After a short time living at London, she then moved to Chester in 1991.

The multigenerational herd Thi established has been the backbone of the zoo’s efforts to prevent the extinction of the Asian elephant, listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species.

Threatened by habitat loss, poaching, disease and direct conflict with humans, just 40,000 Asian elephants are estimated to remain and their numbers continue to decline.

“I’ve known Thi for over 20 years and she was dearly beloved; a wonderful mother, grandmother and great grandmother and central to the growing family herd at the zoo.

Thi was a hugely influential elephant. She has helped us to completely revolutionise how to best care for elephants in progressive zoos and these world-class husbandry techniques are now influencing elephant care globally.

We’ll always remember Thi Hi Way. She was a huge personality and her solid, steady presence will be greatly missed.”

Alan Littlehales, a Keeper who worked with Thi for more than two decades

Elephants are highly sociable animals and experts say the family group will go through a short grieving process before natural instincts ensure they quickly move on from the loss of Thi.

Conservationists from the zoo are at the forefront of the fight for the future of Asian elephants – from conservation breeding in Chester with world-leading husbandry and care; to human-wildlife conflict mitigation in India; to vital scientific research into elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) which is devastating elephant herds globally.

Thi and her offspring have been key to the important scientific advancements which Chester Zoo has led in its search for a cure to EEHV, a deadly virus which affects Asian elephants.

Anyone who would like to pay their respects to Thi can email their favourite memories and photos to
memories@chesterzoo.org and the zoo will upload as many as possible to a special area of its website.