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Endangered Asian elephant calf dies at zoo after living just 27 days

An Asian elephant calf at the Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri died on Sunday, less than one month after his birth, the zoo announced in a press release. The loss is especially devastating as Asian elephants are classified as an endangered species.

The calf, named Avi by his keepers, was humanely euthanized and died "peacefully" on Sunday morning, the zoo said. He was born on July 6. 

The zoo explained that the calf had developmental impairments, which made it difficult for him to feed from the time he was born. While the zoo said its Elephant Care Team provided "intensive care efforts and life support measures," including help with feedings and ongoing intravenous treatments, the calf's health didn't get better.

In the 48 hours before his death, Avi's health "deteriorated rapidly." 

"Everyone here is just devastated right now," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo. "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."

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The calf and his mother, Rani, are seen next to each other before his death. Madi Culbertson/Saint Louis Zoo

The zoo said its Elephant Care Team had prepared for Avi's arrival for nearly three years. And despite his short life, he made "quite the impression." 

"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," Luis Padilla, DVM, the Vice President of Animal Collections at the zoo, said in the release. "Avi will be missed, but never forgotten."

Avi was his mother, Rani's, third baby. Her second calf, named Kenzi, died in 2018, just seven years after its birth. Avi's father, Raja, is the zoo's bull elephant. He was born in 1992 and was the first Asian elephant to be born at the zoo, the zoo said. 

The breeding was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan, the zoo said. The plan is a "national cooperative breeding and management program responsible for maintaining a genetically healthy population of Asian elephants in North American zoos," the release detailed.

There are less than 35,000 Asian elephants remaining in the wild, according to the press release. The biggest threat to the species is habitat loss and fragmentation, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The animals are also threatened as a result of poaching for their ivory, among other threats.

Asian elephants can be found in the wild in dry to wet forest and grassland habitats in South and Southeast Asia, according to the WWF. They typically weigh about 11,000 pounds and are 6.5 to 11.5 feet in height, according to the nonprofit. 

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