PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium says that their baby elephant is gravely ill.
Zoo officials say the calf's appetite is coming back, and she's eating more through her feeding tube and with the bottle. They also say she took a short walk Saturday morning, and they're starting to see her "feisty personality start to return."
The zoo reported Friday the baby elephant is receiving one pint of formula through her feeding tube every four hours. The zoo says she is also taking a bottle of Nan's milk.
Zoo officials said early Thursday afternoon that the calf was up and moving around, the procedure had gone well, and the calf was receiving feedings through her feeding tube.
ORIGINAL STORY 8/23/2017:
The zoo sent out information on Wednesday afternoon that the baby elephant's health has taken a turn for the worse and she is in critical condition.
Zoo staff says the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical for the baby female elephant, which goes by the nickname of "Baby."
"We are very much concerned about losing her. It would be very hard on the staff to lose her. Because really, all of our friends, all of our staff have been very involved with her. She's just a really neat animal. She really is," said Dr. Barbara Baker, the president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
The zoo says she is teething and that she has a sore mouth. That's causing her to not eat, which has caused her to not gain weight. She is down 15 pounds since her birth.
Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but since the calf was born premature and underweight, every pound is important.
"The combination of milk and the formula should be what she needs, but the problem is she's just not taking enough of it," Dr. Baker said. "She'll eat periodically, but she's just not taking enough of it to sustain life at this particular point."
The little elephant underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon at the zoo to install a feeding tube. It will provide her with dietary needs every two hours.
After surgery, she was returned to her pen, where she is comfortable and familiar with the surroundings, to recover. The zoo staff will continue closely monitoring her there.
"Once she's out of surgery, we'll take her right back to the rooms she's used to being in," said Dr. Baker. "She has sort of one stall that she treats as a bedroom and she sleeps in there. The other stall is a playroom and an area where we bathe her and stuff like that. So, she'll go right back there again. We want her to wake up there, we want her to be comfortable where she was. And we need her to sleep, too, as well. She seems to eat better when she can sleep."
The zoo provided the following additional information:
"We were hoping that when we were able to pump milk from Nan, one of our female elephants who is still producing milk, we would be able to provide a valuable fatty supplement alongside the milk replacement. We recently sent Nan's milk to be analyzed to determine if it contains a high enough fat content since the composition of milk can change after years of nursing. The nutritional analysis showed the formula and Nan's milk provide an appropriate diet for the little calf. She is still not eating the amounts we would like to see at this stage though.
We reached out to experts at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust who care for orphaned elephant calves in the wild. This helped us ensure we have all of the information to care for the calf. They eased our concerns somewhat when they said calves typically do not want to eat during teething, which can result in weight loss. They also sleep more and are irritable. The experts also cautioned us that there are times when the little calves do not recover."
Dr. Baker said there are signs they'll be looking for to tell is she is improving or not.
"We want to see her begin to look perkier, to begin to actually, ironically, suck on our thumbs more vigorously, be a little bit more active. We also want to see her accept the tube and allow us to get nutrition into her and not try to take it off," she said.
The calf was born a month early at the zoo's International Conservation Center in Somerset County. She weighed only 184 pounds when born, which is 52 pounds below the normal median birth weight.
PETA issued a statement on Wednesday evening, attacking the zoo and how they are caring for the calf.
"This elephant calf is sick and suffering, likely because human interests were allowed to trump those of the elephant and her mother. Breaking the bond between an elephant calf and the mother she depends on to nourish and nurture her can be life-threatening, but baby elephants boost zoos' ticket sales, and sure enough, this baby was separated from her mother and put on display before the Pittsburgh Zoo even bothered to give her a name. As the zoo scrambles to save a baby who has lost 15 pounds since her birth, PETA is renewing its call for the facility to end its breeding program before more elephants face the fate of this nameless calf and her mother."
However, the Pittsburgh Zoo said back in June they did not take lightly the decision to separate the baby from her mother, Seeni, an elephant that is kept at the Somerset County facility.
They say Seeni, orphaned as a calf herself in Botswana, never learned to care for young.
Zoo officials say she rejected her first calf, and, while she showed interest in the new baby, she didn't want to care for her.
The zoo's elephant manager Willie Theison said in June: "This is not a decision that you ever want to have to make. But the health and welfare of the calf was our top priority. We made the decision to transport the calf back to Pittsburgh, and introduce her to our herd here."
The baby elephant made her public debut last month.
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