Mac, a mischievous, young Asian elephant who had become one of the Houston Zoo's most popular animals, became ill and died Sunday. He was 2.
He entertained visitors with his ability to dance, produce music on wind pipes and stand on his head.
Many zoo staff members, won over by his intelligence, playfulness and occasional headstrong ways, were devastated by the death of the 2,200-pounds-and-still growing animal.
"Everyone shares in the grief. Mac was embraced by the community in the past two years. It was sudden. It was quick, and we just couldn't save him," said zoo director Rick Barongi, who choked up with tears and stepped away from the microphone during a press conference Monday.
After composing himself, Barongi returned to the microphone and said a cure or vaccine will be found only if veterinarians devote themselves to finding one.
Among the zoo's remaining elephants is 3-year-old Tucker, who was Mac's playmate. But the herd may be growing.
"Shanti's in the early stage of pregnancy," Barongi said.