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Pittsburgh Zoo's Baby Elephant Dies, Despite Recent Strides

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
The elephant calf nuzzles elephant program manager Willie Theison, who worked closely with the calf, during her public debut on July 7, 2017.

Despite reports of improvement in recent days, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium officials said Wednesday morning that the facility’s baby elephant has been euthanized.

“Our hearts are broken, it’s just devastating,” said Pittsburgh Zoo president and CEO Barbara Baker in a press release. “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.”

Officials announced last week that the elephant was in critical condition, saying the calf was not gaining weight or eating, likely due to the discomfort she felt from teething.

However, more recently, officials reported the elephant was improving after having a feeding tube inserted. But, according to the zoo, “her weight did not pick up consistently.”

Zoo officials said they had concerns that she might have a genetic abnormality or other problem that prevented her from absorbing nutrients.

Caregivers ultimately decided that euthanizing the calf was the most humane decision. Baker said it was a decision made with the guidance of outside wildlife centers, including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is located in Nairobi, Kenya, and cares for orphaned elephants and fosters rehabilitation

“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,” Baker said in the release. “But they also warned us that sometimes the little calves can’t recover from the weight loss and they pass away as a result.”

The calf was born May 31 prematurely at the zoo’s International Conservation Center in Somerset County and was rejected by the mother, forcing the zoo to feed it with a bottle. Officials said moving the calf to the zoo, where she could have constant care, was the best chance for her health and survival.

The calf was never named. Baker said in July that zoo staff were waiting until she grew older, saying they didn’t want to “jinx” it.

Baker said she expects criticism for the decision to euthanize, saying it will come from “those with limited information and no animal care experience.”

However, she said the zoo stands behind its decision.