Exported Swazi elephant dies in US zoo
One of the much-publicised 18 elephants that were moved from the Hlane Royal National Park and flown all the way to United States (US) zoos has since died unexpectedly.
According to KETV7, a male elephant died unexpectedly on Thursday at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Warren, who was believed to be between eight and nine years old, arrived at the zoo on March 11, 2016 from Swaziland. He was the only male in the herd of six that came to the zoo from Africa.
The publication further reports that in recent months, elephant keepers noticed Warren's tusk had small cracks at the tip, which were beginning to progress toward the root canal. The veterinary team was concerned the cracks would lead to a serious infection, so in July Warren was immobilised to have his tusks trimmed. However, new cracks began forming in August.
"It's a serious issue and it was important we prevent it," Dr Doug Armstrong, Director of Animal Health at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is quoted as having said.
The 18 elephants were flown to the US amid animal rights groups decrying the clandestine sedation and removal of ‘the stolen 18’ as officials said drought conditions jeopardised the pachyderms’ wellbeing. Three American zoos pulled off an audacious clandestine operation to fly the group of elephants out of Swaziland despite a legal challenge to block the transfer, enraging conservationists who claimed that removing elephants from the wild for display in zoos is cruel and outdated.
The 18 elephants – three males and 15 females ranging in age from six to 25 – were sedated, loaded onto crates and placed on a large cargo plane that in Swaziland.
These elephants were split among three zoos – the Dallas zoo, Sedgwick County zoo in Kansas and Henry Doorly zoo in Nebraska – where they were put on exhibit and used for breeding purposes.
The unannounced move stunned an animal welfare group that was due to argue against the transfer in a US federal court. The group, Friends of Animals later admitted defeat in its bid to prevent what it called the “stolen 18” from being taken from the wild and placed into zoos.
Friends of Animals filed for an emergency injunction to stop the transfer, argued via a frantic teleconference with US federal court judge John Bates. Bates’ ruling noted that the short timeframe meant he was “not able to definitively resolve the issue”.
But he sided with the zoos, which pointed out that the elephants had already been drugged and that leaving them in the small African nation would have put them at risk. The US Fish and Wildlife Service granted a permit to the zoos to import the elephants, amid concerns that they would be culled due to the then intense drought that has gripped Southern Africa. The zoos said the removal of the elephants from Hlane Royal National Park would relieve pressure on other wildlife, such as rhinos, and called opposition to the transfer “ideological”.
In a joint statement, the three zoos said they had to rapidly remove the elephants for their own wellbeing due to the deteriorating situation in Swaziland.
“As food supply became scarcer, urgency increased to relocate the elephants to homes where they could be well cared for,” the zoos said then.
Meanwhile, medical staff gave the elephant a tranquiliser and anesthesia Thursday, which is something Warren had experienced four times before. Twenty minutes into the procedure, Armstrong said Warren's respiration slowed and eventually stopped.
"We instituted emergency procedures, but they were unsuccessful," Armstrong said. The cause of death is unknown. The zoo will now perform a necropsy to determine how Warren died.
"Sad. (I) want to know what happened," zoo visitor Morghan Wilcox said.
"That's really sad, but I mean it sounds like it wasn't anyone's fault," said zoo visitor Jaynie Dawald. The six other elephants at the zoo are also adjusting to Warren's death. The zoo closed the indoor elephant facility to seclude the elephants from the public.
"They're usually moving around a lot, making a lot of noise and everything," zoo curator Dan Cassidy said. "They were very quiet and each one, in turn, touched Warren."
Visitors and zookeepers will remember Warren fondly for his clever and tough personality.
"He had a way of running up to the front of the enclosure and he would kick the sand of the display at you," Cassidy said. Warren's death means Louie, who came to the Omaha zoo from Toledo, Ohio, in July, is now the only male elephant at the zoo. "We anticipated that as Warren became more mature, that then he would eventually become our second breeder," Cassidy said.
"This really impacts not only us, but all the elephants in captivity in North America." The zoo has contacted the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to see if Warren could be used for research or educational purposes. If not, Armstrong said he will be buried on zoo grounds.
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has no immediate plans to bring another male elephant in.