El Paso Zoo officials announced today the death of its beloved and iconic 26-year-old California Sea Lion, Sunny. Sunny passed away overnight in a behind the scenes pool where he was being closely monitored by keepers.
Sunny was currently being kept off exhibit because he was not feeling well. The behind the scenes holding pool allowed his keepers and the zoo’s medical team easier access to care for him as he was undergoing care for age related medical issues.
Sunny was born at the El Paso Zoo on June 12, 1986 and has since touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of El Paso community members and its visitors. Sunny began teaching visitors about ocean conservation during Sea lion presentations more than 15 years ago and has since served as an ambassador of conservation. Sunny was the first Sea lion at any zoo to teach visitors about recycling by demonstrating how to put the correct items in a recycling bin.
Sunny was also the trainer to new Sea lion trainers because he was so gentle and easy to work with. He was an animal that gave his keepers and visitors a personal experience- one that they may not get with other animals at the zoo .
In the last couple of weeks, while Sunny was in his off exhibit pool, keepers made sure to spend time with him to let him know that they were there for him and loved him dearly. “We would sit with him and massage his back with the water hose, he really loved that. We are really going to miss him,” said Area Supervisor Amanda Leverett.
Keepers also ensured that Sunny was under constant expert care, keeping him comfortable at all times while trying to stimulate him to eat. “We spend more time with the animals than our own families. The bond we build with them is very important. It’s an unbreakable bond,” said Senior Zoo Keeper Billie York. Sushi, Sunny’s exhibit companion had the chance to visit him daily to check up on him. Sushi and zoo staff had the opportunity to say good bye to Sunny this morning.
“It is a sad day here for all staff at the zoo. Sunny was the face of the zoo- a true super star. The El Paso Zoo was blessed to have an iconic animal like Sunny. This is a great loss for us all and he will be missed dearly,” said Zoo Director Steve Marshall.
The Sea lion exhibit will remain open. Sea lion presentations have been cancelled today and will resume on Tuesday, November 27 at their regular time. Guests will continue to see Sushi, the zoo’s 14-year-old sea lion, during daily presentations at 10:50 a.m. and 2:50 p.m.
Anyone wishing to drop off a remembrance for Sunny can do so by dropping it off at the zoo’s front gate or by dropping it off at the Sea lion exhibit during their zoo visit. The community is also being encouraged to share their photos with Sunny or a nice memory of him on the Zoo’s facebook page.
Zoo staff is currently investigating the possibility of a meaningful remembrance for Sunny. Anyone wishing to contribute to his memory can make a monetary donation to the El Paso Zoological Society by calling 532-8156 or by stopping by their office at the zoo.