07/10/2013 01:35 EDT | Updated 09/08/2013 05:12 EDT

White rhino 'Charlie' euthanized at Greater Vancouver Zoo

The Greater Vancouver Zoo's 46-year-old southern white rhinoceros was euthanized Monday after a period of difficulty eating and drinking, zoo management said.

General Manager Jody Henderson said the rhino, named Charlie, was a peaceful animal that had made many special connections with staff and visitors over the years.

"He's been at the Greater Vancouver Zoo since 1998," she said. "He moved slowly. He allowed interaction between the keepers and himself. He loved to get rubs and massages all the time. He was just a really, really gentle soul."

Dr. Chelsea Hilmsworth, a veterinary pathologist with the B.C. Animal Health Centre, performed a necropsy on the rhinoceros Tuesday, and determined the animal had outlived the lifespan of its teeth.

"This prevented him from being able to chew his food properly, which eventually resulted in a blockage in the esophagus,” she said in a written statement.

Caregiver to the end

Veterinarian Dr. Bruce Burton, who was extremely close to the rhino, put the animal down.

“When one of my most beloved animal friends has finally reached the end of his or her life it is impossible to adequately express the emotional toll caused by the need to terminate their existence. And even more so, to be the actual instrument of that termination," he said in a written statement.

"I feel immensely privileged to have known you for the past decade and a half, and feel profoundly depressed that so few will ever experience the same intense relationship."

Henderson said that the rhino had lived his expected lifespan, which can be anywhere from 25 to 45 years in captivity. The online Rhino Resource Center, which advertises itself as the large rhino information site, says that the lifespan of the white rhinoceros in the wild can be up to 40 or 50 years.

Charlie came to the Greater Vancouver Zoo, in Aldergrove, B.C., in 1998 from the Okanagan Game Farm.