The Oklahoma City Zoo said a necropsy found no “definitive” cause for the death of Chai, the 37-year-old elephant. Meanwhile, an activist group said it plans to file a complaint with the USDA.
The 37-year-old Asian elephant was transferred from the Woodland Park Zoo to her new home last May after a contentious legal battle with those who wanted her placed in a sanctuary. She was found dead Saturday morning.
“We want an independent investigation. The zoo won’t investigate itself,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Seattle-based group.
The Department of Agriculture is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Zoo said Monday that a necropsy of Chai showed “no definitive cause of death or obvious signs of infectious disease.”
It said nothing can be ruled out until final lab results are in, which may take a month or longer.
The necropsy took place over an entire day “and into the evening,” said Tara Henson, spokeswoman for the zoo. Chai weighed 7,300 pounds.
Henson said the necropsy showed no tissue damage.
A herpes virus has killed other elephants in captivity.
If the disease came on quickly and was acute, said Dr. Susan Mikota, a veterinarian and co-founder of Elephant Care International, “it may not have had time to develop” such signs as acute swelling under the mandible.
Among the reasons Fortgang’s group opposed moving Chai and Bamboo, Seattle’s other Asian elephant, to Oklahoma City was its winter climate that meant “prolonged barn lockup.” (The zoo said Bamboo is doing fine.)
Fortgang said that “it gets into the 30s at night” at the zoo this time of year. The week that Chai died, highs ranged from to 50 to 76; lows were 29 or 30.
In its complaint to the USDA, the elephant advocacy group said it was unclear whether night watch staff, “if any,” conducted regular inspections. The complaint said there was “no indication of how long Chai was recumbent, or whether earlier staff intervention” would have helped.
About the night temperatures, Henson said, “The elephants have outstanding indoor and outdoor habitats. Plenty of shelter including state-of-the-art, climate-controlled spaces for their comfort and care. Access inside and out to allow them choices during appropriate weather parameters. As animal-care professionals, we provide the best care for the animals in our care.”
She said she had no comment on the complaint.
On the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Facebook page, among the more-prevalent postings were ones such as, “Elephants are not born to spend their lives in captivity. Not in a circus, not in a zoo. If you love animals don’t put them behind bars.”
There were also posts expressing support and sympathy for the zoo and the other elephants.
“That’s to be expected,” Henson said. “It’s an emotional subject.”
She said zoo staffers also were emotionally affected by the death of Chai.
“There’s a lot of hurting hearts at the zoo,” she said.