Investigations and advocacy groups threaten Oklahoma City Zoo

Chai is the second elephant to be found dead at the OKC Zoo in the past six months.
Online photo

Chai is the second elephant to be found dead at the OKC Zoo in the past six months. Online photo

An animal activists group is asking for an investigation of the Oklahoma City Zoo after the second elephant died at its facilities in the last six months.

“The staff at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is sad to announce the death of female Asian elephant Chai,” according to the Oklahoma Zoo’s

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a Seattle-based animal activists group, filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the care and circumstances surrounding the death of Chai.

The Woodland Park Zoo members posted on their Facebook page and said,“We are deeply saddened and our hearts go out to our friends at the OKC Zoo. We loved Chai. This is a difficult time for all of us.”

Chai is the second elephant to die at the zoo within the last six months. Malee, a four-year-old elephant, passed away in October from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). Henson said that the death of Chai was not foreseen.

“She had been acting normally, she had been fine that evening before, enjoying time with her herd mates,” Henson said. “So there was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong. Clearly we’re shocked. We’re really very sad and still trying to come to terms that this has actually happened.”

A full animal autopsy, known as a necropsy, found no signs of infectious disease or a definite cause of death in Chai. However, nothing can be ruled out until final lab results are given, which can take more than a month to receive, according to the Seattle Times.

“They have recently become endangered due to the rarity and value of their tusks,” junior Michaela Brown said. “By keeping them locked away in zoos, we are slowly letting their breed die out.”

Chai and Bamboo, a 49-year-old female Asian elephant, moved to the Oklahoma City Zoo in May 2015. These elephants transferred to the zoo after Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle decided to close its elephant exhibit following the passing of a member of the herd. Its decision to move the elephants was ultimately made by the promise of a multigenerational herd at the OKC Zoo for Chai and Bamboo to socialize, as they would in their natural habitat.

“With moving animals around, I think you have to be really careful because it does put a lot of stress on them,” sophomore Hannah Johnson said. “It probably would have been better for the elephants to go to a sanctuary and no longer be confined.”

The initial arrival of the elephants was protested and involved a legal battle from animal rights groups who believed that the elephants would not adjust to life in Oklahoma and belonged in a sanctuary.

According to its website, the elephant habitat at the Oklahoma City Zoo opened March 2011. The project cost $13 million, the zoo’s annual income, for the 9.5-acre, state-of-the-art

“Personally, I was shocked at the limited amount of acreage provided for these gentle giants,” Brown said. “I think what zoos are trying to do to protect the animals, particularly the elephants, over the years has turned into harming them instead.”

Due to its skilled keepers and veterinary staff, along with its healthy environment and stable finances, animal welfare experts recommended the Oklahoma City Zoo for the elephant duo in April.

“There are different dangers to animals contained in zoos than if they were allowed to remain in their natural habitats,” Johnson said. “They can suffer from more illnesses, stresses, dietary issues and health problems that wouldn’t typically occur to them in the wild.

Chai’s remains will stay in Oklahoma City.

“We think of those animals as part of our family and we take that very seriously,” Henson said. “There’s a lot of hurting hearts at the zoo.”

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