updated 3/9/2007 8:53:02 PM ET 2007-03-10T01:53:02

Mama Petite, described as one of the oldest hippos in the country, has died after several days of rapidly declining health at the Birmingham Zoo.

The 50-year-old, 2,800-pound hippo was euthanized in her outdoor enclosure Wednesday while surrounded by her zoo caretakers.

"She was comforted and she knew we were present," Dr. Marie Rush, director of veterinary services the zoo, said.

Mama Petite arrived at the zoo in May 1959 after being caught in the wild. She gave birth to nine offspring during her time in Birmingham. All are on exhibit at zoos across the country. The only animal at the Birmingham Zoo that has been there longer is Mona, a 60-year-old Asian elephant brought to the zoo in 1957, according to the zoo.

Rush said Mama Petite was in excellent health until about two years ago, when she got sunburned. She was treated and recovered, but eventually developed a recurring skin condition that became increasingly difficult to control.

Her health visibly worsened this week and caretakers decided Wednesday that she was suffering beyond necessity.

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