Calgary Zoo in mourning day after baby elephant's death
The Calgary Zoo is hoping to learn more about the tragic death of baby elephant Malti. They're performing a post-mortem exam on the 15-month old after she died from a rare, but deadly, disease called elephant herpesvirus.
Zoo spokesperson, Laurie Herron, says everyone at the zoo is in mourning and they're all trying to come to terms with the death of their baby elephant.
"Everybody is still in a bit of shock."
Malti was precocious and playful and had been thriving at the zoo, but the young elephant died Saturday afternoon, less than a week after contracting the deadly elephant herpesvirus. A blood test Friday confirmed Malti had the disease. Only four elephants are known to have survived after contracting herpesvirus. It's believed Malti contracted the disease from one of the adult elephants, who can carry the disease without ever displaying symptoms or getting ill.
Herron says Malti's mother Ronnie, who shunned her at birth, lingered close to the room where Malti died.
"She sort of started a moaning sound that they hadn't ever heard her do before, so I think she was very connected to the baby, more than we gave her credit for being."
On Sunday, the day after Malti's death, flowers and notes were left by zoo visitors, like Michelle McQuade.
"I had to tell my daughter because her school is quite active in saving animals, and she had felt so sad, and the mom felt so sad. And that's what I said to her, it's always harder for the mommy because they don't have their babies around."
Herron says the zoo hopes a lengthy autopsy will provide answers about the rare disease that attacks an elephant's blood vessels.
"They'll be doing everything they can to try to make this mean something, so Malti's life isn't in vain, and whatever they learn might save another elephant."
But the death brings breeding programs under scrutiny. This is the second elephant calf to die at the Calgary Zoo. Both babies were born to Ronnie. She rejected both of them at birth. Dozens of stingrays mysteriously died in May, and a 22-year old Western Lowland Gorilla was euthanized after he developed an inflammatory intestinal disease.
Michael Alvarez-Toye, with the Calgary Animal Rights Coalition, says changes need to be made.
"Our view is that the breeding programs in zoos are usually subject to a lot of failure. They don't accomplish what they set out to do."
Still, many people, like zoo visitor Sherry Saelhof, think the breeding programs are important.
"I really do hope they keep trying. It would be very disappointing not to have them here."
The zoo says it's too early to speculate whether Ronnie will be impregnated again. Right now they want more answers about Malti's death.
The veterinarians who are performing the post mortem exam on Malti will hold a news conference on Monday to report on their findings.