The Oklahoma City Zoo has released the necropsy results for Chai, an adult female Asian elephant who died at the zoo on January 30.
According to Zoo officials, Chai’s skeleton was evaluated at the Museum of Osteology in Moore, Oklahoma, while being processed for life-sized display, and was examined for any additional abnormalities that might help to better determine the cause for her loss of body fat and death. Her skull showed severe tooth abnormalities that were not detectable prior to her death. Both upper molars were severely deformed and twisted with little remaining chewing surface. Because of the size and density of the elephant skull, it is not possible to x-ray the jaw and teeth to detect infection as you would in human dentistry.
The Oklahoma City Zoo’s veterinary team consulted with leading elephant health experts and reviewed photographs of the skull. Based on all of the necropsy findings, it is most likely that Chai had a congenital abnormality of her teeth that progressively worsened throughout her life. The abnormal surfaces of her molars prevented her from chewing food properly, which led to reduced ability to extract caloric content despite an excellent appetite and intake of a normal quantity of food.
Based on the severity of the dental abnormalities in this case, there was no treatment, medical or surgical, that could have corrected the condition, zoo officials said.
“We are grateful to our professional colleagues who continue to work towards a better understanding of Chai’s cause of death. Together, we learn more about elephant anatomy and healthcare practices that allow us to grow our standards of care for elephants in both the wild and human care,” said Jennifer D’Agostino, DVM, Dipl. ACZM, director of veterinary services at the Oklahoma City Zoo.