TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka officials say a 35-year-old African elephant at the Topeka Zoo has died.
The elephant, named Shannon, died Monday morning after she was found lying on her side for the second day in a row.
When the 5,500-pound elephant was found on her side Sunday, Topeka fire personnel used a large strap and tripod to help lift her back into an upright position.
Zoo director Brendan Wiley said firefighters were attempting to lift the elephant again Monday morning when she took her last breath.
Wiley said zoo officials are investigating what caused the elephant’s death.
Shannon and Cora, a 59-year-old Asian elephant, arrived at the Topeka Zoo in August 2016 from a traveling elephant program based near Tampa, Florida. They joined two other elephants at the zoo.
By Molly Hadfield
SHAWNEE COUNTY —Four years ago, when the Topeka Zoo’s elephant program was identifying goals for its Geriatric Elephant Management Plan, it identified a need to be able to assist an elephant back up on its feet. With the goal identified, staff began working on a plan to address a down elephant.
Focus at the zoo was placed on developing the ability to lift an elephant anywhere it was down in either the indoor or outdoor habitats. “The first phone call we made was to the fire department,” said Zoo Director Brendan Wiley. “They were willing to help.”
A team was assembled for some table top discussions. Around the table were zoo staff, firemen, crane operators, tow truck operators and others that had some experience with lifting heavy awkward
things. Not long after the first meeting in 2013, the fire department brought someone new into the picture – the Animal Search and Rescue team of the Emergency Equine Response Unit. Once or twice a year over the last three years, Topeka Zoo staff, Topeka Fire Department personnel and the Animal Search and Rescue team have trained on different down elephant scenarios. Each training led to enhancements in both equipment and technique. This morning, that training paid off.
When staff arrived at the zoo Sunday morning, Shannon, a 35 year old African elephant, was down. She was lying on her side in an indoor space with the other elephants standing guard. Staff tried to encourage Shannon to stand up. She simply couldn’t do it. At approximately 7:30 this morning, the Down Elephant Emergency Protocol was initiated. Working together the zoo, the Topeka Fire Department Technical Rescue Team and the Animal Search and Rescue Team began the process of getting straps under Shannon’s side and attached to a rigging system. A tripod was erected around her. When all was ready, the rigging was attached to a specialized hoist that began to lift Shannon up.
With the majority of Shannon’s body weight off the ground, she was given an enema for rapid hydration. She began to try to get her feet under her and failed. Several attempts later, she was able to stand and support her own weight. At approximately 11:30 this morning, she was released from the straps that had helped her stand.
During the procedure, zoo veterinary staff administered several medications. Staff were able to retrieve blood samples which will hopefully help identify the underlying cause. Shannon will be staying inside for the rest of the day. Currently, she is eating and drinking well but she needs to be kept under close observation.
Elephants typically don’t lay down for extended periods of time in part due to their body mass. In the event where an elephant is sick or injured, if it stays lying down for too long, body processes can begin that may cause the elephant to die. The older an elephant gets, the more concern this causes.
“What I witnessed this morning was incredible,” said Wiley. “When I first saw Shannon lying there, I didn’t think she was going to make it. Even with all the preparation we had put into this, I was still amazed by the commitment and determination of our firefighters and colleagues from Animal Search and Rescue. They saved an elephant today.”