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Tessa was shoved by another elephant on Saturday at the Toronto Zoo, and died three hours later when the 40-year-old couldn't get back up. ((CBC))

An elephant died over the weekend at the Toronto Zoo after another elephant shoved her to the ground over some food.

Tessa, 40, fell and couldn't get back up even with the help a crane after a more dominant elephant pushed her Saturday, zoo officials said.

"We tried to lift her up with the crane and she put her feet on the ground, but she just wasn't supporting herself," Eric Cole, supervisor of the African Savanna, told the Toronto Star.

"She just stopped breathing when we put her back down. She died slowly. The breath went out of her and her heartbeat got dimmer and dimmer and then she was gone."

The elephant, one of the zoo's first animals when it opened in 1974 and a favourite among zookeepers, was weaker than other members of her group, zoo officials said. Her trunk didn't work well and one of her tusks pointed the wrong way.

Her shortcomings made her an easy target for the others in past years, though Saturday's accident wasn't about bullying but about getting food, Cole told the Star.

Zoo caretakers were distraught when Tessa died three hours after her fall.

"Lots of tears," Cole told CBC News on Monday. "Everyone's grieving in their own way."

Even the other elephants mourned.

"There was a lot of activity around where Tessa was," Cole said. One elephant "spent a lot of time with the body, throwing some dirt on it, digging around, some of them even sleeping beside her."

As for the elephant that pushed Tessa, she stood over the body and wouldn't leave her side.

"She was probably thinking, 'What have I done?'" Cole said.

The veterinary staff at the zoo will conduct an autopsy and then bury her on the grounds near other elephant graves.