The last elephant at Lincoln Park Zoo, already the focus
of animal rights groups because of pachyderm deaths there, died Sunday
while being shipped to a new home in Salt Lake City.
Appearing distraught, zoo President Kevin Bell said he was
"grieved to announce" that Wankie, 36, died of unknown causes two days
after being loaded onto a truck for Utah and Hogle Zoo.
Bell emphasized the humane, thorough attention given
Wankie during the move, but a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals -- which last Wednesday protested the move -- said
her death was the zoo's fault.
"Wankie did not have to die," said PETA's Debbie Leahy.
She charged that in its haste to avoid City Council hearings on its
treatment of elephants, the zoo rushed Wankie to her death.
The African elephant was given "crate training" in
preparation for the move for only two weeks, when it should have been a
month, Leahy said.
In comparison with circus elephants, which are transported
frequently, Wankie had only been moved twice previously, she said.
In 'great' condition Friday
"We will be calling on the [U.S. Department of
Agriculture] to file charges against Lincoln Park Zoo," Leahy said.
Bell said the zoo will be contacting USDA, too, to ask for
an independent audit of Wankie's death by the agency and the American Zoo
and Aquarium Association.
Citing fears of disruption, possibly by animal rights
activists, the zoo said last week it would not release details of Wankie's
transfer until it was complete. Reporters expecting to hear those details
at a Sunday news conference instead were told of the animal's death.
Wankie was in "great" condition when she was gradually coaxed into a crate
Friday morning, Bell said.
"She was very calm. She had done this trip once before [to
Chicago from the San Diego Zoo two years ago]," he said.
Her first trip was from Africa to the San Diego Zoo, her
Accompanied by the zoo's chief veterinarian, lead elephant
keeper and a second keeper, Wankie appeared fine until Saturday while the
truck-and-van convoy was driving through Nebraska. Then "she went down in
her crate" and began to experience breathing difficulties.
"At times, she appeared to improve, taking fluid and
rising on her front legs," Bell said. Wankie was given medication and an
enema and placed in a sling to help her stand.
Grief counseling slated
But her condition didn't improve after her arrival at the
zoo in Salt Lake City, and after her "breathing was compromised" at 3:30
a.m. Sunday, a team of 20 animal care professionals and two veterinarians
"made the difficult decision to euthanize her," Bell said.
Wankie's death was "devastating" to the staff at Lincoln
Park Zoo, and a grief counselor will be made available to them today, said
PETA has been bringing its forces to bear on Lincoln Park
Zoo since the deaths of two other elephants at the zoo last year --
Peaches, 65, who died of old age and Tatima, 35, of mycobacterium szulgai.
Bell said a necropsy will be done to determine how Wankie died -- results
of which probably won't be available for several weeks -- but that the
cause of her death was "widely different."
Zoo officials said the median age reached by elephants in
the wild is 42, but that like Peaches, some live into their 60s in
In March, Ald. George A. Cardenas (12th) called for the
closing of the zoo's elephant exhibit. A hearing on his resolution is set
"There are no plans to bring elephants to the zoo in the
near future," he said.
Go on to Announcing the
Creation of Peaceable Kingdom
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