Fred, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s 16-year-old male American elk, was humanely euthanized on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
A beloved resident at the OKC Zoo’s Oklahoma Trails habitat since 2005, Fred was a popular animal ambassador for the diverse wildlife found throughout Oklahoma.
Given Fred’s advanced age, the OKC Zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams had been monitoring him for end of life care. Fred was showing signs of decline from age-related issues including arthritis, limited mobility and most recently decrease of appetite, which greatly compromised his quality of life. Animal care team members were treating Fred’s arthritis with medications and by making modifications to his habitat. Caretakers added mats to his indoor barn area for additional comfort and constructed a ramp to allow him easy access from walking from his barn to his outdoor habitat. When it was evident that Fred’s pain from these issues could no longer be mitigated with treatment, the veterinary and animal care teams made the difficult but necessary decision to humanely euthanize him.
Fred was a striking animal weighing close to 700 pounds and standing nearly 5 feet tall with prominent antlers extending 3-4 feet above his head! Male elk shed their antlers yearly and as Fred shed his they were often provided to other animals as sensory enrichment including the Zoo’s big cats. Zoo guests were also aware of Fred’s distinguishing bugle calls that could be heard throughout most of the park during rut (mating) season. Fred’s caretakers shared that during rut one of his favorite enrichment items was his large boomer ball. He would run after it pushing it with his antlers at fast speeds around his habitat. In the summer, Fred could always be found cooling off in his own mud wallow.
Compared to animals in the wild, those in human care tend to live significantly longer lives, sometimes doubling life expectancy. The average life span for a wild elk is 8 to 12 years and the fact that Fred lived to such an advanced age can be attributed to the excellent quality of care and welfare he received from the Zoo’s veterinary and animal care professionals.
The American elk, also called wapiti, is a species of least concerned according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are also one of the largest species within the deer family. The OKC Zoo is proud to share that Fred, and several other animals, were the subject for world-renowned wildlife photographer, Joel Sartore, for the National Geographic Photo Ark in 2014.
Fans of Fred are invited to leave memories and photos of him of the Zoo’s social platforms.
“Fred” OKC Zoo, ©Joel Sartore/ National Geographic Photo Ark