PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Hearts are broken at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium following the passing of the new elephant calf, known to the keepers that loved her as “Baby.”
Zoo officials announced their decision to euthanize her on Wednesday morning.
The problem, they said, was that Baby could never gain weight. But the big question that remains is — why? The answer to that question won’t be known until the full necropsy on Baby is complete.
What officials do know is that Baby was only able to maintain her weight or lose weight from the time she was born.
With a sweet, smiling face that could melt your heart, what Baby lacked in size, she more than made up for with her lovable spirit. Officials at the zoo are devastated by the loss.
“This little girl really captured a lot of hearts. She was feisty. She was a character. She was sweet and loving, and so it’s very, very hard,” said Dr. Barbara Baker, president & CEO of Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, while fighting back tears.
— Julie Grant (@JulieGrantEsq) August 30, 2017
Born prematurely on May 31, 2017 at the zoo’s conservation facility in Somerset County, Baby weighed only 184 pounds. The Pittsburgh Zoo staff worked tirelessly to help her get to a healthy weight over 200 pounds, but, for some reason, the calf could never gain any weight.
“We’ve always suspected, particularly the last month, that we were dealing with some kind of birth defect where she could not absorb nutrients and was not able to gain weight normally,” said Dr. Baker.
When her teeth started coming in, eating became painful and she started losing more weight. A feeding tube was inserted last week, as a last ditch effort to save the calf’s life.
“While she initially had a bump in weight, on Sunday, her weight was going back down again at this particular point,” said Dr. Baker.
Baby had gotten down to 166 pounds, and zoo officials decided that euthanizing her was the only humane thing left to do.
“We knew that the feeding tube was our last chance and we should have seen, with the feeding tube, a pickup in her weight, a consistent pickup in her weight. So, we determined that when that didn’t happen, the humane thing to do was to help her,” Dr. Baker said.
Officials consulted with experts around the world before making their final decision, and Baby was surrounded by her caregivers and passed peacefully.
“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,” Dr. 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.”
So many are saddened by the loss.
“I believe we’re very blessed to have a chance to know her. She was a wonderful spirit, I’ll tell ya,” said Dr. Baker.
It was a sad day for staff, saying their final goodbyes, and visitors who were hoping to meet Baby.
“It’s a place to come with your family, and they enjoy it. It’s a loss that you take personally,” said Jean Byrnes, of Plum Borough.
“Any time something happens to any baby, animal, person, it’s always sad,” said John Sagwitz, of Allegheny Township.
Aug. 31, 2017 would have been Baby’s three-month birthday.
Those who cared for Baby are trying to find comfort in knowing they did everything they could to save her.
The results of the necropsy won’t be available for several weeks.
Meanwhile, PETA issued another scathing statement directed at the zoo following the elephant’s passing.
“This elephant’s short life ended without the comfort of her mother or other elephants. The Pittsburgh Zoo has publicly glossed over the apparent true extent of the health crisis that this unnamed baby must have suffered-and from taking her away from her mother to dropping its accreditation so that it can keep using weapons on elephants, its elephant program is a throwback to a crueler age. PETA is calling on the Pittsburgh Zoo to end its elephant program altogether.”
Zoo officials said, however, that Baby’s mother was unable to care for her calf, and that is why she was separated from her mother, Seeni, after her birth. She was brought to the zoo, so keepers and medical experts could keep a closer eye on her.