The elephant calf that was born in Somerset County died at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, it was announced on Wednesday.
“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.
The elephant stopped eating during teething. Staffers decided to insert a feeding tube so keepers and veterinary staff could provide her with nutrients and vitamins. After her weight did not pick up consistently, the staff at the zoo decided that the only humane thing to do was euthanize the calf.
Throughout the calf’s life, the zoo’s staff 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.”
While most elephants are in the womb for 645 days, the calf that died was only in it for 615 days. The calf weighed 184 pounds, which is 52 below the average African elephant calf weight.
Her mother Seeni, who is housed at the International Conservation Center in Somerset County, rejected the young calf and had no milk. Zoo officials decided to bring her to the zoo, separating her from her mother. Zoo staff was able to teach on of the adult females in the zoo to allow them to hand milk her, and the calf was fed elephant milk as well as an African elephant formula that was analyzed by the Smithsonian Institute, according to a news release from the zoo..
The calf did not gain weight, and staff suspect a genetic abnormality or some type of malabsorption syndrome that the calf was born with that did not allow her to absorb nutrients. The veterinary team will do a full necropsy. Results 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,” the zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray said in a statement. “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.”