A 48-year-old Asian elephant at the center of a debate about the Los Angeles Zoo’s living conditions for pachyderms died Saturday in her enclosure, zoo officials said. Zoo officials said an examination will be conducted to determine what killed Gita, who was found sitting down when keepers went to her yard Saturday morning and who died at 9:40 a.m. despite attention from veterinarians. “I am concerned about the precise cause of death and have asked the City of Los Angeles Zoo Department for an independent, timely and exhaustive necropsy of Gita to determine the cause of Gita’s death,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement released by his staff. A zoo favorite since her arrival from India in 1959, and one of a few survivors from the old Griffith Park Zoo that predated the Los Angles Zoo’s opening in 1966, Gita had arthritis and a history of foot problems. Survery last year removed portions of a toe from her left front foot. Zoo critics have blamed Gita’s foot problems on the size of her enclosure and the hard surface on which she walked. One critic said Saturday she was not surprised by Gita’s death. “Gita is emblematic of what is wrong with keeping animals in zoos today. Elephants need a far higher quality of life,” Catherine Doyle of In Defense of Animals told City News Service. “I really believe this was preventable. I hold Los Angeles Zoo, the mayor and the city accountable for her death. They all failed her when they did not move her and all of those elephants to a sanctuary.” Doyle’s group and the Los Angeles Alliance for Animals announced plans for a demonstration today outside the zoo’s main gate. Asian elephants in the wild live up to about age 60, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. In 2003, Gita captured the public spotlight after a companion elephant known as Ruby was moved to the Knoxville Zoo to be an “auntie” in the African elephant breeding program there. But Ruby acted aggressively toward the other female elephants and never fit in. Animal-rights activists said Ruby was unhappy about being separated from Gita, her companion for 16 years in Los Angeles. In 2004, then Mayor James Hahn ordered city-owned Ruby to be returned to Los Angeles. But a month after Ruby’s return, an African elephant named Tara died of heart failure. Since Ruby’s return, Ruby and Gita have been living out of the public view in adjoining yards. A third elephant is on display. Zoo critics have demanded the three elephants be moved to a sanctuary. They say the Los Angeles enclosures are too small for animals that can roam up to 10 miles in the wild and that the hardpacked soil and concrete are brutal on the animals’ feet. A city report released last year said the elephants are well-tended but need far more space. In April, the City Council voted to build a $39 million elephant exhibit, covering 3.5 acres and containing grasslands and waterfalls. Council members said they were convinced the elephants are crucial to the zoo experience and that they would thrive in the proposed Elephants of Surin exhibit. Critics complained the proposed exhibit was both too expensive and too small, particularly if the zoo ever increases its display to six to eight elephants as the general manager has suggested. Set to be completed by mid-2008, the elephant exhibit will be funded, in part, with $17.7 million in voter-approved park bond money, $4.5 million donated by the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association and $2.3 million from the sale of private property donated to the zoo association. The city will make up the rest of the cost with $14 million borrowed from the city’s Municipal Investment Corp. Gita’s body was trucked Saturday to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, a state agency associated with the University of California-Davis, zoo officials said. Villaraigosa said the necropsy results would be released for public review and consideration. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!