Ruby was born in Thailand, most likely in the summer of 1973, and was shipped to the Phoenix Zoo in February 1974 when she was about seven months old. Initially, she lived with a goat and some chickens for a few years without any elephant companionship. Her painting career began when her keepers saw her scratching in the dirt of her enclosure with a stick, and offered her a brush and paints.
In time, she was moved into the main enclosure with the zoo's two other elephants, both African. African and Asian Elephants are of different species, and Ruby did not get along with the other two. Zoo officials decided to breed her, to provide her with companionship.
In 1996, when she was 22, Ruby was shipped to the Tulsa Zoo to mate with a male elephant named Sneezy (who still lives in Tulsa) and lived in Tulsa for about a year. When she became pregnant in 1997, she was returned to Phoenix. Another female Asian elephant, Indu, was loaned from the Houston Zoo to be Ruby's birthing companion. Indu still lives at the Phoenix Zoo.
At the end of October 1998, Ruby began to show signs of labor, but the birth didn't start. On Halloween, the zoo's veterinarians determined that her calf had almost died in her womb, and the decision was made to perform a Caesarean operation. When surgery began on November 6, it was discovered that her uterus had ripped and a massive infection had spread through her abdominal cavity. Her male fetal calf weighed 320 pounds, twice the size of a normal newborn elephant.
Ruby was euthanized immediately and her death triggered an outpouring of grief throughout the Phoenix area. When the Phoenix Zoo announced a free-admission day in honor of Ruby's memory, 43,000 people attended, nearly triple a normal day's attendance.
In the late 1990s, the Caretaker's House, a small stone cottage on the zoo grounds (left over from when the zoo site was a fish hatchery operated from the 1930s to the 1950s) was extensively renovated and dedicated to Ruby's memory and honor. Ruby's House has become a popular venue at the Phoenix Zoo for weddings and receptions.
- Flores, Graciela (1 June 2007). "When I see an elephant...paint?". the-scientist.com. The Scientist. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
- Mayell, Hillary (June 26, 2002). "Painting Elephants Get Online Gallery". National Geographic News. National Geographic Society. p. 2. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "Sad end for Phoenix's celebrated painting pachyderm". cnn.com. Cable News Network. 6 November 1998. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
- Silverman, Amy (10 December 1998). "Trunk Murder?". phoenixnewtimes.com. Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
- George, Dick (1995). Ruby: The Painting Pachyderm of the Phoenix Zoo. New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0385321006.