A 27-day-old elephant with developmental impairments that limited his ability to feed since he was born has died at the St. Louis Zoo.
"Everyone here is just devastated right now," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D. and Dana Brown, the president and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo in a statement on the zoo’s website. "Our team of professional elephant care experts did everything possible to help improve the calf's health. Unfortunately, in the end, it just wasn't enough as his health complications were too severe."
The Elephant Care Team said they had prepared for his arrival for almost three years and decided to name him Avi -- which means "the sun and air” -- during that period.
"The animal care team who worked so closely with this calf every day of his short life, and all those who loved him, are understandably grieving," said vice president of animal collections at the Saint Louis Zoo. Luis Padilla, "Avi will be missed, but never forgotten."
Padilla continued: "The community followed Rani’s journey from pregnancy to birth and provided support and positive thoughts for the calf and the Elephant Care Team when they learned of the calf's developmental and health impairments. The outpouring of support that we have received from the community has been incredible. I know everyone joins us in our sense of loss, and that helps our team get through these difficult times.”
According to the St. Louis Zoo, there are fewer than 35,000 Asian elephants left in the wild and they face extinction due to challenges like poaching for ivory and habitat destruction.
The zoo said that Avi was Rani’s third baby and that she has previously given birth to Jade in 2007 and Kenzi in 2011, although Kenzi passed away at the age of seven in 2018. The father, 27-year-old Raja, was the first ever Asian elephant born at the St. Louis Zoo in 1992.
“An elephant pregnancy lasts about 22 months and a newborn weighs about 250-350 pounds,” the zoo’s statement read. “Rani received regular prenatal health checkups by the zoo's elephant care team throughout her pregnancy.”
The veterinary team at the zoo have confirmed that they will now conduct a full necropsy on Avi and that the results will be available in several weeks.