VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — Queenie, an Asian elephant who gained fame by water skiing decades ago, died this week at the Georgia theme park where she had retired.
The 59-year-old elephant was euthanized Monday at the Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, Ga., park general manager Bob Montgomery said. The animal had suffered from declining quality of life and chronic health issues, The Valdosta Daily Times reported.
Liz Dane, who worked with Queenie for years, told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the elephant was a natural performer. Archival footage shows the younger elephant balancing on two attached giant skis with Dane alongside it as a motorboat pulled them through the water.
"She would stand on the skis at the edge of the water, and then once she got used to that they just slowly started towing the skis out and she just loved it," said Dane, who lives in Concord, N.H. "She would put her trunk in the water and get a big scoop of water and spray it all over the place!"
"I doubt very seriously that you'll ever see another elephant water ski," Dane said.
Queenie was born in Thailand in 1952 and imported to the U.S. as a baby. In the fall of 1953, during a visit to a New York City pet store, the 9-year-old Dane told her father she wanted the animal as a pet, she wrote in a historical account of their relationship.
So they loaded the 250-pound elephant into their 1953 Mercury — with the back seat removed — for the drive home to New Hampshire, she wrote.
Queenie also played the harmonica, and performed at state and county fairs, Republican rallies, military bases and circuses around the country.
Dane said it was a Florida couple, Marj and Jim Rusing, who taught Queenie to water ski, which she did during the 1950s and 1960s. Dane said the Rusings had trained other elephants to ski, but Queenie at the time was the world's only water-skiing elephant.
Queenie retired to the south Georgia theme park in 2003. Dane said the handlers there took excellent care of her.
"I had been bracing myself for the day I would get the call that she had passed," Dane said. "I've had a lot of ups and downs since then, and I've been hearing from so many people reminding me of how many memories they had of Queenie."