The St. Louis Zoo is mourning the loss of Rani, a 27-year-old female Asian elephant, who died unexpectedly on Friday, October 13, 2023. Rani was a mother of three and a daughter of Ellie, another elephant at the zoo.
What happened to Rani?
According to the zoo officials, Rani’s death was preceded by a disturbance caused by a small, unleashed dog that was seen running in a non-public area near the Elephant Barn. The dog’s presence agitated the elephant that was outside, who then vocalized to the rest of the herd. The Elephant Care team quickly moved the outside elephant indoors and collected the dog.
Rani was already indoors in her bedroom having dinner and did not see the dog herself. However, she became agitated in reaction to the vocalizations from the herd. She circled and vocalized briefly before collapsing. The Elephant Care and Animal Health teams performed emergency care, but they were unsuccessful in reviving her.
What did the necropsy reveal?
A necropsy (animal autopsy) performed by the zoo’s pathologist revealed some preexisting changes in Rani’s heart. The significance of these changes is unknown at this time and further testing is being conducted. The zoo officials said that it is possible that the stress from the dog incident exacerbated Rani’s heart condition and contributed to her death.
How did the zoo and the public react?
The zoo announced Rani’s death on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, after giving time for the Elephant Care team and the other elephants to say goodbye to her on Friday evening. The zoo director, Michael Macek, said that they were absolutely devastated and asked for the community’s thoughts and support during this difficult time.
Rani was a special member of the elephant family group at the zoo. She came to St. Louis in July 2001, when she was 5 years old, along with her mother Ellie. She learned from Ellie how to be an amazing mother herself and gave birth to three calves: Jade, Kenzi and Avi. Jade is still part of the herd at the zoo, while Kenzi died in 2018 from a viral infection and Avi was euthanized in 2020 due to birth abnormalities.
Rani was also known for her unique squeaking noise that she made when socializing with her family. Her daughter Jade also mimicked this sound. Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, Zoological Manager of River’s Edge, said that Rani loved playing with her sisters Maliha and Priya and had a great relationship with her animal care team and all of the other elephants.
The public also expressed their sadness and condolences for Rani’s death on social media. Many people shared their memories and photos of visiting Rani at the zoo and thanked the zoo staff for taking care of her. Some people also criticized the owner of the dog that caused the disturbance and demanded accountability.
Why are Asian elephants endangered?
Asian elephants are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They face threats such as habitat loss, poaching, human-elephant conflict and disease. There are only about 40,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, mostly in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.
The St. Louis Zoo is committed to conserving this endangered species through its participation in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Asian elephants. The SSP is a cooperative breeding program that aims to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population of Asian elephants in zoos across North America.
The zoo also supports conservation efforts in Asia through its WildCare Institute Center for Asian Elephant Conservation. The center works with local partners in Sri Lanka and Sumatra to protect elephant habitats, reduce human-elephant conflict, monitor elephant health and behavior, and educate communities about elephant conservation.