Duchess was born in 1970 and came to Paignton Zoo in 1977 from Longleat Safari Park. She’s pretty much a senior citizen by human standards.

Is her skin supposed to look like that?

Yes. She has the skin of a mature female African elephant – it’s a bit baggy and creased, but it’s supposed to be! However, she really doesn’t like water – keepers used to hose her down, but in spite of it being warm water she still hated it. She can spray herself with water from the trough if she wants. She has access to dust baths and a mud wallow, but she only uses them in really hot weather. This means her skin looks dry and wrinkly – it’s unsightly but it’s not unhealthy.

Why doesn’t Duchess have long tusks?

Her tusks are not broken; they are just short and a bit worn. Not all African elephants are big tuskers!


Not very good. Her right eye was removed by vets in 2011 because of cataracts and glaucoma. In 2012 she had an operation on a cataract that returned most of her sight in her left eye. She doesn’t see that well close up, but she knows her way round her enclosure and her house like the back of her trunk! She also makes full use of her sense of smell.    

Why does she stand still?

It’s not a sign of boredom and it isn't because she's sad. She is no longer young, so she may be just resting and waiting for her next meal. Remember, elephants don’t smile! She isn’t a person, so we shouldn’t think of her in the same way. She does, however, have a strong character and can be a bit impatient when she doesn’t get her own way. Studies monitoring her daily behaviour concluded that she is still a contented elephant, albeit on her own.

Why does she occasionally walk backwards?

No one knows! She’s always done it – we have never fathomed out why. Interestingly, wild elephants can also walk backwards when they want to.

Why is she on her own? Why don’t you get another elephant to keep her company?

Duchess arrived at Paignton Zoo along with a female Asian elephant called Gay. Sadly, after 30 years of companionship, Gay had to be put to sleep by the Zoo vets in March 2010 because of a chronic illness. Bringing in other elephants is problematic - she would almost certainly be bullied by other adult females, even if they were available, as they would try to take advantage of her visual impairment. We don’t want to take the risk with her or another animal. She is very familiar with her home and her keepers - sending her to another zoo would also unsettle her.

Having said that, we are on the look-out for a suitable place for her to go – we have investigated a few options since Gay died, but none has been ideal. We have spoken to and visited other collections in the UK and Europe. We would have to decide whether the transfer would be too stressful for her - a BIG concern for an old lady like Duchess. We have also thought about bringing in another species to keep her company, but we just don't think this is right for her.

We all love Duchess!

Her keepers are dedicated and enthusiastic - some of them have worked with Duchess for over 25 years. Then there are volunteers, students and all the visitors who love to see her, as well as the giraffes next door. Keepers can’t spend all day with her – they have lots of other animals to care for - but they keep a very close eye on Duchess. She responds to them (and to food!) and enjoys training sessions and enrichment. Duchess is in a good place and in good hands.

Quotes Loads to see and do, for a full day out. Quotes