TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The Caldwell Zoo in Tyler is mourning the loss of one of its animals that was loved by visitors for nearly 40 years.

Christa, a black rhino at the zoo since 1987, was euthanized Tuesday morning after being diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis (TB).

“She was a sweetheart. She was one of the favorites here. Like I said before, it’s a hard day here at the Caldwell Zoo for our professional staff. But, if she ever thought that the keepers were taking too long to bring her favorite foods like sweet potatoes or watermelon, she would huff at them and grunt. They knew to speed up a bit and keep her happy,” said Steve Marshall, President and CEO of The Caldwell Zoo.

The zoo also released a statement about Christa’s death.

“Christa was named in honor of the teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy of 1986. She definitely honored this legacy by being a wonderful ambassador for rhinos all around the globe. It’s no wonder she was absolutely adored by visitors to the zoo and her dedicated animal keepers that took care of her every day.”

Caldwell Zoo

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services Veterinarian Brent Moore, visitors to the zoo were “not at risk of contracting TB from the rhino due to the way TB is transmitted.” The disease spreads from prolonged, close contact with the infected animal.

Christa, at nearly 37 years old, had the distinction of being the oldest, living black rhino in all of North America. The zoo wrote the black rhino is “critically endangered in the wild” and has been working to bring awareness to the threats to their species.

Only 5,000 Black Rhinos are left. Accredited zoos like Caldwell work to collectively breed animals to keep them from going extinct.

The zoo’s statement said that “…in honor of Christa, we will still remain steadfast in the mission to help preserve wildlife.”