Zoo Staff Deeply Saddened by Elephant’s Death

Reid Park Zoo staff are saddened to report beloved 11-year-old male elephant, Punga, died unexpectedly yesterday due to a double mesenteric root torsion, or twisted gut. Symptoms of this condition occur suddenly and are usually fatal. Despite the animal care team taking immediate emergency measures, the life-saving effort was not successful.

The Zoo’s veterinarian, Alexis Moreno, DVM, said that torsions are more common in horses than elephants. The cause of the condition remains relatively unknown.

“The animal care team noticed Punga showing signs of discomfort yesterday morning, and responded immediately,” said Moreno. “They provided exceptional care and did everything right. Unfortunately, with this condition recovery is nearly impossible. Our team is devastated and it makes us feel rather helpless, but there is nothing we could have done differently to change the outcome.”

Despite their own grief, the animal care team recognized that the elephants will also mourn the unexpected loss of their family member so they provided them access to Punga’s body and an opportunity to process the death in their own way.

“Because elephants have complex social structures and deep family bonds we wanted to ensure they had an opportunity to grieve as we all do,” said Sue Tygielski, PhD, interim zoo administrator. “Our staff are deeply affected by his loss and we will be providing grief counselors to support them. We deeply appreciate the community’s support during this difficult time.”

The Zoo was able to perform a full necropsy to determine the exact cause of death. This may help the animal community better understand how and why this condition affects certain animals. Results from the tests are expected to take several weeks.