Death of an elephant

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COURTESY GREENVILLE ZOO
  • Courtesy Greenville Zoo


Joni, a 44-year-old African elephant from the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina, who was supposed to have been moved here, died suddenly en route, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced yesterday.

We wrote about Joni last week. The move was hailed as being in her best interests — she was solitary, and considered elderly for a captive elephant, but not a wild one (she'd been taken from the wild as a 2-year-old calf). Others we spoke with suggested that it would have been better if the elephant had been sent to a sanctuary rather than another zoo, even one such as Cheyenne Mountain, which says it specializes in caring for elephants like Joni.

African elephants aren't just big. They are also intelligent, social animals who can speak amongst themselves, communicating across great distances by means of rumbles that are too low for human hearing. And while they may live longer in the wild than in captivity, they're threatened there, too, by ivory poachers. Some naturalists believe they could be extinct in the next several decades if nothing more is done to protect them.

It's not yet known what killed Joni. Had she been moved to a sanctuary, one would think the same thing could have happened en route. Perhaps the only way her sad life could have been extended and brightened would be if she had been moved sooner.

The press release from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo:
ELDERLY ELEPHANT PASSES AWAY EN ROUTE TO CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO

— Age-related conditions likely caused Joni’s death —

June 15, 2014, Colorado Springs, CO – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is mourning the loss of a gentle giant that they considered one of their own, even though she had never stepped foot onto the mountain. Joni, an elderly 44-year-old African elephant, passed away suddenly while en route to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo from Greenville Zoo in South Carolina. She was being transported because both zoos believed she would receive better geriatric care and have more opportunities for socialization at her new home in Colorado Springs.

“We knew there was risk involved in transporting Joni because of her age,” Bob Chastain, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo President and CEO, said. “But we also knew that she deserved the very best end-of-life care, and we wanted the chance to give that to her. We are sad for both the community of Greenville, as they mourn the loss of an elephant they knew for almost her entire life, and for the community of Colorado Springs, who will never get a chance to meet her.”

Having an animal pass away during transport is a rare occurrence for Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions, but the older and larger an animal is, the more complications a move can have. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Greenville Zoo worked together to ensure the best possible outcome for Joni during her move.

“In case of emergency, a car with Greenville Zoo’s veterinarian and head elephant keeper followed Joni all the way from South Carolina,” Chastain said. “They monitored her at every stop, and nine zoos along the way were on standby to help them if the need arose. Despite all the precautions taken, Joni passed so quickly that nothing could be done for her.”

The decision to move Joni (who was known to the Greenville community as “Joy”) from Greenville Zoo to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was made entirely with Joni’s best interest in mind. She had ailments that Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s veterinary and keeper staff were confident they could manage. The move was also vital because Joni was the sole remaining elephant at Greenville Zoo, and social interaction with a herd is imperative for an elephant’s mental well-being.

“Despite this loss, we still know in our hearts that moving Joni to Colorado was the right decision,” Chastain said. “If she had lived for another year or longer, it would have been unfair to her to have spent that time alone.”

A necropsy will be performed by both Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Greenville Zoo veterinary staff to determine Joni’s cause of death.

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