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27-year-old elephant dies after dog gets loose in zoo enclosure

Zoo staff members are left heart broken after a beloved Asian elephant died after she became agitiated

Amelia Neath
Thursday 19 October 2023 17:48 BST
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This is an image of Rani, an Asian elephant who died after getting spooked by a small lost dog
This is an image of Rani, an Asian elephant who died after getting spooked by a small lost dog (Ray Meibaum/St Louis Zoo via AP)

An elephant has died in a tragic incident at St Louis Zoo after she and other elephants became agitated by a small dog running loose.

The zoo confirmed that Rani (pronounced Ronnie), a 27-year-old female Asian elephant unexpectedly died at around 4pm last Friday.

“We are absolutely devastated. We ask for the community’s thoughts and support during this difficult time,” Michael Macek, Saint Louis Zoo Director, said in the statement.

“Our team of professional animal care experts did everything possible, but we couldn’t save Rani.”

At 3.39pm, a small lost dog found its way onto the zoo’s grounds and was spotted running in a non-public area near the Elephant Barn.

Despite the Elephant Care team catching the dog, its presence startled an elephant outside and caused the herd to start vocalising.

The elephant outside was able to move indoors to calm down, helped by the Elephant Care team.

All the while, Rani was indoors in her bedroom eating her dinner and did not see the dog at all.

Despite this, the vocalisations from her herd started to make Rani distressed.

The care team saw Rani run in circles and vocalise before she collapsed on the floor, all within a very brief moment.

As soon as she collapsed, the care and Animal Health teams attempted to revive the 27-year-old animal, but they were unsuccessful.

This heartbreaking death prompted former and current Elephant care team members and the elephants themselves to spend some time saying goodbye to Rani on Friday evening.

The zoo confirmed that the rest of the herd has calmed down and is doing well.

Rani (left) and her mother Ellie (Ray Meibaum 2019)

“Rani was a special member of this elephant family group,” said Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, a manager at the zoo.

“She loved playing with her sisters Maliha and Priya. While growing up here in St Louis, she got to learn from her own mom, Ellie, on how to be an amazing mother herself. She had a great relationship with her animal care team and all of the other elephants. When socialising with her family, she made a unique squeaking noise that her daughter Jade also mimics.”

A necropsy, an animal autopsy, performed by the zoo’s pathologist did find that Rani had some “preexisting changes” in her heart, although further testing will be done to determine the significance of this.

Rani came to live at the Zoo in 2001 with her mother, Ellie, 52, when she was just five years old.

Rani had three babies of her own while at the zoo – Jade, Kenzi and Avi.

River’s Edge Keeper Becky added, “It’s been a privilege to get to know Rani from just a youngster when she moved here to then watch her become a mother and grow with the elephant family. She will be greatly missed,” said Becky, a keeper at the zoo.

The zoo is committed to the protection and conservation of Asian elephants.

Less than 50,000 of them are left in the wild and are considered an endangered species.

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