OKC Zoo: Rare Condition Contributed To Elephant's Unexpected Death

Monday, March 14th 2016, 10:14 pm
By: News 9

The Oklahoma City Zoo said a rare and most likely genetic condition contributed to the death of their elephant, Chai.

After a controversial trek across the country, Chai settled in Oklahoma City from Seattle last May and died in January.

The original results from the Oklahoma City Zoo were that Chai died of a bacterial infection.

She had also been losing body fat, zoo officials said.

Her bones were donated to the Museum of Osteology, where they're being processed for display.

It was her teeth that offered another tip about the Asian elephant's poor health.

The molars were apparently infected, twisted and deformed, issues that were likely getting worse of a period of years as she shed each set, according to Veterinary Services Director Jennifer D'Agostino.

3/14/2016 Related Story: OKC Zoo Releases Elephant Chai's Necropsy Results

Zoo officials said Chai had a good appetite and ate well before her death, but was not getting enough caloric content from her food because of the improper chewing issue.

But because certain molars are almost impossible to see during routine checks, D'Agostino said there was nothing they could've done to save her.

However, the zoo has plumber’s cameras they use annually to check the hard-to-reach molars in their elephants, but D’Agostino said they had not been used yet on Chai before her death.

She said the zoo plans to use those cameras twice a year on all elephants in the future to monitor their teeth.

D’Agostino said she could not confirm the bacterial infection that killed Chai was caused by the tooth infection, but that it is a possibility.

Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants in Seattle read the update about Chai’s teeth and released this statement:

Chai's congenital abnormality of her teeth should have progressed slowly over what is an elephant's 60 to 70 year lifespan. The fact that Chai suffered such sudden, massive weight loss in less than one year at the Oklahoma City Zoo is suspect.   We are reviewing medical records which raise many red flags about the level of care and attention to Chai's conditions. Had Chai been retired to a sanctuary, where she would have received 24/7 monitoring and expert veterinary care, she might be alive today."