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Elephant dies after dog ran around Saint Louis Zoo

A 27-year-old Asian elephant collapsed and died after a small dog got loose in the Saint Louis Zoo, apparently sparking agitation among zoo animals, the zoo said Monday.

The elephant, Rani, died less than half an hour after the dog was seen running in an area near the Elephant Barn, according to the zoo. Initial necropsy results revealed some preexisting changes in Rani's heart and further testing is being done to determine the significance of the changes.

What happened at the zoo?

A small dog was spotted near the Elephant Barn just before 3:40 p.m. on Friday, the zoo said. It was quickly collected and handed over to a shelter. The dog's presence caused an elephant outside to become agitated. The zoo's Elephant Care team moved the agitated elephant indoors. 

Rani was in her enclosure eating dinner and did not see the dog herself during the Friday incident.

"The Elephant Care team observed Rani become agitated in reaction to the vocalizations from the herd," according to the zoo. "They saw Rani circle and vocalize, all within a very brief period, before collapsing."

She got emergency care, but died around 4 p.m.

Zoo officials have not said where the dog came from. The zoo's website notes that dogs and other pets are prohibited, with the exception of service dogs. 

Remembering Rani the elephant 

Rani came to the Saint Louis Zoo in July of 2001, when she was 5, along with her mother. Rani's mother, now 52, still lives at the zoo. She and two other 52-year-old elephants are the oldest Asian elephants at the zoo. The average life expectancy for a female Asian elephant is 47 years, according to several zoos. 

The Asian elephant was a mother of three: Jade, Kenzi and Avi. Jade is still part of the herd at the zoo. Kenzi died at age 6 in 2018 of endotheliotropic herpesvirus, more commonly known as EEHV, according to the zoo. Avi was euthanized less than a month after his 2020 birth. He had irreversible birth abnormalities, one affecting the major vessels connected to his heart and one affecting his spine.

Rani the elephant
Rani the elephant in 2017.  Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo

Zoological manager Katie Pilgram-Kloppe said Rani was a special member of the zoo's elephant family group. 

"She loved playing with her sisters Maliha and Priya. While growing up here in St. Louis, she got to learn from her own mom, Ellie, on how to be an amazing mother herself," Pilgram-Kloppe said. "She had a great relationship with her animal care team and all of the other elephants. When socializing with her family, she made a unique squeaking noise that her daughter Jade also mimics."

Asian elephants are classified as endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

"Given the shrinking population of Asian elephants, the Saint Louis Zoo is committed to conserving this endangered species," the zoo said in a statement. 

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