Thousands of animal lovers paid what could be their final visit to a beloved Greenville Zoo resident over the weekend.
The zoo held a goodbye celebration for Joy the elephant, who has been one of the first creatures people have seen at the zoo since she arrived in 1978.
"Joy's been here for almost four decades, and she's probably been here longer than any animal currently at the zoo," zoo director Jeff Bullock said.
Joy will remain on exhibit at the zoo until her transfer to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO, can be finalized. But since that could happen on short notice, zoo officials wanted to give the public ample opportunity to see Joy again.
During the goodbye celebration, zoo visitors met Joy's trainers, signed giant farewell banners for the elephant and snapped lots of photos.
"People constantly snapped pictures over the weekend," Bullock said. "At one point, two elderly women who remembered when Joy first came to the zoo asked if I would take their picture with her."
During the four-day farewell event, which started Thursday, Bullock said approximately 5,000 people visited the zoo.
"It's been bittersweet, but the community has been very supportive overall, since the move is in Joy's best interests."
Joy, the 44-year old elephant, will join other aging elephants in Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's Encounter Africa exhibit, with more than three acres and a waterfall Joy to enjoy.
"(Visitors) love the elephants, and it's going to be an adjustment for both them, and for (zoo staff)," Bullock said. "When Joy leaves, it'll be the first time in my 30-year career that I have been at a zoo without an elephant."
In 2012, zoo officials determined the park did not have enough space to keep the elephant exhibit in accordance to new American Zoological Association guidelines and began searching for new homes for the zoo's two elephants, Ladybird and Joy. Ladybird passed away in March before zoo officials finished their search.
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