Ex­ported Swazi ele­phant dies in US zoo

Observer on Saturday - - News -

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.

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