Chai the elephant has died mysteriously at the Oklahoma City Zoo, less than a year after being moved there from Woodland Park Zoo.
On Saturday, January 30, at approximately 7:30 a.m. CST, the Asian elephant was found by zookeepers lying slumped in its enclosure, and looking exceptionally peaceful, as revealed by zoo representative Tara Henson.
Soon afterwards, it was determined that Chai had died, and so far wildlife specialists are at a loss as they try to determine what triggered the female elephant’s sudden demise.
Chai the elephant was just 37 years old, and considering that normally females pertaining to this species have an average life expectancy of around 47 years, Oklahoma City zoo officials believe that the elephant’s death wasn’t caused by old age, but by an entirely different factor altogether.
However, even illness seems like an unlikely explanation, given the fact that the animal had been eating heartily and had appeared to be in good health, being often seen ambling through the elephant yard and actively engaging with the rest of the herd.
Chai the elephant had also been closely monitored by zookeepers, and had benefited from frequent veterinary checkups, which had never identified any medical conditions that could’ve expedited its death.
Sometimes elephants die early because they have several strains of the herpes virus, one such case having been reported at the Oklahoma City Zoo back in October 2015, when 4-year old Malee shocked zookeepers with its death.
It’s unclear if Chai also suffered from such an infection, and an official cause of death will only emerge in a couple of weeks, when the animal’s necropsy will finally be completed.
Meanwhile, Chai’s premature demise has prompted keepers to be on alert regarding the rest of the elephants which had been kept alongside it, but so far no other member of the herd is displaying any worrying symptoms.
Staff is particularly concerned about Bamboo, a 48-year old female elephant which was brought to the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden at the same time with Chai, after having been living at Woodland Park Zoo.
Their prior home had long been criticized for the poor living conditions it provided to elephants, and the relocation appeared to be a step in the right direction, since the Oklahoma facility had been praised for its superior practices and safe environment.
And yet now some animal welfare advocates are suggesting that the two Asian elephants should’ve never been transferred there in the first place.
As they argue, a better solution would’ve been to take the duo to an elephant sanctuary instead, just like it had been proposed by a non-profit group called Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
That’s because keeping Asian elephants in captivity has long been proven to be extremely hazardous to these gentle giants.
More precisely, as a 2012 report has shown, the probability of an elephant baby dying while being kept confined at the zoo is of around 40%, which is thrice as high as the one reported among their counterparts that live in the wilderness.
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