ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A female elephant at the Saint Louis Zoo died after her herd became agitated from a dog running loose, according to zoo officials.
Rani (pronounced “Ronnie”) died on Friday, Oct. 13. She was 27.
“We are absolutely devastated. We ask for the community’s thoughts and support during this difficult time,” zoo director Michael Macek said in a news release. “Our team of professional animal care experts did everything possible, but we couldn’t save Rani.”
A small, unleashed dog was seen running near the Elephant Barn, a non-public area, Friday afternoon, Macek said.
An elephant outside the barn saw the dog and became agitated. The zoo’s elephant care team quickly moved that elephant inside and captured the dog.
Rani was already inside her sleeping area, having dinner. She did not see or hear the dog. But, at one point, zoo staffers noticed Rani became “agitated in reaction to the vocalizations from the heard,” the press release stated.
The 27-year-old elephant circled her pen and vocalized for a brief period, then collapsed. The zoo’s team of animal experts did everything they could in a short span but could not save Rani.
Macek said that an animal autopsy revealed Rani had preexisting changes in her heart, but more testing is needed to determine if those changes contributed to the elephant’s death.
The elephant care team and the rest of the herd “were given time with Rani to say goodbye” after her passing, according to the zoo. Macek also said the herd calmed down and the surviving elephants are doing well.
Rani was part of a three-generation family of Asian elephants at the zoo. She and her mother, Ellie, came there in July 2001 as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan. There are fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild, and they are facing extinction due to poaching and habitat loss.
The Smithsonian Institute said female Asian elephants have a life expectancy of around 47 years.
Ellie, now 52, still lives at the zoo with her surviving daughters, Maliha, 17, and Priya, 10. One of Rani’s two daughters, Jade, 16, is also at the zoo. The other, Kenzi, died of a viral infection in February 2018 at age 6. Rani’s son, Avi, died in August 2020 less than a month after his birth.
Raja, the zoo’s bull elephant, fathered Rani and Ellie’s calves. Raja is 30.
“It’s really sad, first of all; it’s really tragic,” said Patrick Boylan, who lives in the area and often walks his 7-year-old husky mix by the zoo.
Boylan’s comments are just part of the outpouring of emotion in the wake of Rani’s death.
“That’s sad. I know they usually live a pretty long time,” said zoo-goer Alex Gaddie. “This place does a good job of taking care of them.”
Boylan is questioning how the unrestrained dog made its way into the zoo to begin with.
“It shows why you should have your dog on a leash,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.