August 31, 2017

Baby Elephant Passes



(Pittsburgh) (2017)—Pittsburgh Zoo staff are mourning the passing of our elephant calf.

“Our hearts are broken, it’s just devastating” says Dr. Barbara Baker, President & CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “She touched so many people in such a short time. We did everything we possibly could to care for her, but unfortunately in the end, it just wasn’t enough.”

When teething caused the little elephant to stop eating, the decision was made to insert a feeding tube so keepers and veterinary staff could provide her with the necessary nutrients and vitamins her body needed. While initially the calf responded well to the feeding tube, her weight did not pick up consistently. The humane decision to euthanize the calf was made and she passed away peacefully surrounded by her family of dedicated keepers.

Throughout her life, the Zoo consulted with elephant experts from around the world, including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the world leader in saving orphaned elephant calves. “When we spoke with them, they assured us that it was a normal occurrence for calves who are teething to not have an appetite and to lose weight,” says Dr. Baker. “But they also warned us that sometimes the little calves can’t recover from the weight loss and they pass away as a result.”

Average gestation for a female African elephant calf is 645 days, and this calf arrived prematurely at 615 days. The calf weighed only 184 lbs., 52 lbs. below the average African elephant calf weight. When her mother rejected her and had no milk, and her bloodwork indicated that the calf was compromised, she was brought to the Zoo. The Zoo staff cared for her 24 hours a day since her birth. The staff were able to teach one of our adult females to allow us to hand milk her, and the calf was fed elephant milk as well an African elephant formula. This combination formula was analyzed by the Smithsonian Institute, and proved to be perfect for the calf.

“When the calf did not gain weight, we began to suspect a genetic abnormality or some type of malabsorption syndrome that the calf was born with, that did not allow her to absorb the nutrients as she should. The veterinary team will be doing a full necropsy, which will hopefully shed some light on the problem,” said Dr. Baker. Results of the necropsy will not be available for several weeks.

We expect there will be criticism and accusations from those with limited information and no animal care experience. Sadly, these individuals seek to benefit their own agendas by misrepresenting the realities of a tragic situation and demanding action based on misinformation. Despite the outcome, we fully stand behind the informed and calculated decisions made, and the valiant efforts and commitment of the team of experts who cared for the elephant calf. The Zoo’s keeper and veterinary staff demonstrate dedication to the care and welfare of animals every single day and always act in the interest of what is best for each individual animal in every unique situation.

The Zoo wishes to thank all those who have expressed their support, prayers, and well wishes for the little calf over the past several months.

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