By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Queenie, a water-skiing Asian elephant who delighted fans in the 1950s, has been euthanized at the Georgia wildlife park where she lived her final years in retirement.
"She had a declining quality of life and declining health," said Micha Hogan, public relations director of the Wild Adventures Water and Theme Park in Valdosta, where Queenie had lived out of the spotlight since 2003.
The 58-year-old elephant was the star of a water-skiing show in the late 1950s at De Leon Springs, a private roadside park near DeLand, Florida that at the time was located on a major thoroughfare for tourists.
Queenie, standing atop two pontoons, was pulled around a lake by a boat as fans watched in bleachers, said Brian Polk, manager of what is now the De Leon Springs State Park.
Liz Dane said her parents purchased the young elephant in 1953 from a New York City pet store, and the following year the family took her to their private zoo in Fairlee, Vermont.
Over the years, Queenie learned a number of tricks, including water skiing and playing the harmonica, Dane told Reuters on Friday.
Queenie performed with Dane on television shows and at circuses, county fairs and De Leon Springs.
"Elephants can swim," she said. "That particular area, the water wasn't that deep. And even if she did spill over, they can swim. There was no danger."
Dane, whose parents sold Queenie to a circus in 1967, last saw the elephant in January. Queenie was euthanized on Monday.
"Obviously I was extremely sad when she died, I cried," Dane said. "But then I reflected on how she had been going downhill, her health had been declining. I'm sad, but I'm happy for Queenie. She's in a better place now."
At De Leon Springs State Park, visitors still can watch a video of Queenie performing. Polk said a live elephant water-skiing show would probably be considered unacceptable by today's standards.
"We think the time period for that has passed," he said. "People are more sensitive to animals."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)