ST. LOUIS – The Saint Louis Zoo confirmed Tuesday that one of its Asian elephants, Rani, has died.
Rani (pronounced “Ronnie”) died Friday, Oct. 13, at 4 p.m. She was 27.
According to Michael Macek, director of the Saint Louis Zoo, an animal autopsy revealed Rani had preexisting changes in her heart, but more testing is needed to determine if those changes contributed to the elephant’s death.
The Smithsonian Institute says female Asian elephants have a life expectancy of around 47 years.
Just before 3:40 p.m. that Friday, a small, unleashed dog was seen running near the Elephant Barn. This was an area closed to the public, Macek said.
Only one elephant was outside at the time, and the pachyderm became agitated. Rani was already inside her sleeping area, having dinner. She did not see or hear the dog.
The zoo’s elephant care team was quick to move the outdoor elephant inside and retrieve the dog. On Tuesday, Saint Louis Zoo staff reported the dog linked to the situation was a small and lost dog.
At one point, zoo staffers noticed Rani grew agitated in reaction to vocalizations from the rest of the herd. Rani circled her pen and vocalized for a brief period, then collapsed.
Macek said the zoo’s team of animal experts did everything they could in the short span but could not save Rani.
The elephant care team and the rest of the herd “were given time with Rani to say goodbye” after her passing. Macek said the herd calmed down and the surviving elephants are doing well.
Rani was part of a three-generation family of Asian elephants at the zoo. She and her mother, Ellie, came to the Saint Louis Zoo in July 2001 as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan. There are fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild and are facing extinction due to poaching and habitat loss.
Ellie, now 52, still lives at the zoo with her surviving daughters, Maliha, 17, and Priya, 10. One of Rani’s two daughters, Jade, 16, is also at the zoo. The other, Kenzi, died of a viral infection in February 2018 at age 6. Rani’s son, Avi, died in August 2020 less than a month after his birth.
Raja, the zoo’s bull elephant, fathered Rani and Ellie’s calves. Raja is 30.
“It’s really sad, first of all; it’s really tragic,” said Patrick Boylan, who lives in the area and often walks his 7-year-old husky mix by the zoo.
Boylan’s comments are just part of the outpouring of emotion in the wake of Rani’s death.
“That’s sad. I know they usually live a pretty long time,” said zoo-goer Alex Gaddie. “This place does a good job of taking care of them.”
Boylan is questioning how the unrestrained dog made its way into the zoo to begin with.
“It shows why you should have your dog on a leash,” he said.