The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium’s baby elephant has died, zoo officials announced Wednesday.
“Our hearts are broken, it’s just devastating,” Dr. Barbara Baker, the zoo’s president and CEO, said. “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 while teething and a feeding tube was inserted. Officials said the calf initially responded well to the feeding tube, but her weight did not pick up consistently.
Zoo officials made the decision to euthanize the calf, which was surrounded by her keepers when she passed away.
The zoo said it consulted with elephant experts from around the world while caring for the calf, which was born prematurely at 615 days. The average gestation for a female African elephant calf is 645 days.
“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. “But they also warned us that sometimes the little calves can’t recover from the weight loss and they pass away as a result.”
At the time of the calf’s birth, she weighed 184 pounds, 52 pounds below average. Her mother rejected her and had no milk, so the orphaned calf was taken in by the zoo and fed elephant milk and an African elephant formula while in its care.
“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,” Baker said.
Results of the necropsy will not be available for several weeks, the zoo said.
The baby elephant had gone through surgery and had a feeding tube inserted last week. The day after surgery, the elephant was up and moving around and was being fed every four hours. Over the weekend, officials said that she had taken a walk and her “feisty personality” had begun to return.