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PETA raises concerns over baby elephant’s treatment

December 14, 2018

Representatives with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have raised concerns over the Pittsburgh Zoo’s handling of an elephant calf that was the offspring of Seeni, an elephant who lives in captivity at the International Conservation Center in Somerset County.

PETA said it has obtained two previously unreleased inspection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dated July 13, 2017. The unnamed calf was born on May 31, 2017, at the center near Fairhope and euthanized on Aug. 30, 2017, after she would not gain weight.

According to the reports, the International Conservation Center, where Seeni’s calf was born, didn’t have enough employees to care for six elephants, including the newborn calf, which required round-the-clock care. The USDA wrote that the zoo took the calf from Seeni “in part because of this limited staff and their inability to care for this animal the mother rejected.”

Rachel Mathews, PETA Foundation deputy director of captive animal law enforcement, said she believes the “zoo failed both Seeni and her calf, and this is exactly why PETA has called for an end to its archaic elephant program.”

Tracy Gray, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Zoo, said the report reference is an old one and it was a preliminary one that was amended upon the completion of the investigation.

“The care and welfare of all animals is a top priority at the Pittsburgh Zoo,” Gray said. “We are confident that every decision we made was in the baby elephant’s best interest and we exhausted every option available.”

PETA is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend the Endangered Species Act permit that it issued earlier this year allowing the Pittsburgh Zoo to import semen from an elephant at a zoo in Canada. PETA’s complaint notes that a young elephant named Umasai died at the Pittsburgh Zoo around the same time that Seeni’s calf was put on display — but the facility never announced his death.

In previous reporting, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium officials said that Seeni rejected the young calf and had no milk. Zoo officials decided to bring her to the zoo, separating her from her mother. Zoo staff were able to teach one of the adult females in the zoo to allow them to hand milk her, and the calf was fed elephant milk as well as an African elephant formula that was analyzed by the Smithsonian Institute, according to a news release from the zoo.

The elephant stopped eating during teething. Staffers decided to insert a feeding tube so keepers and veterinary staff could provide her with nutrients and vitamins. After her weight did not pick up consistently, the staff at the zoo decided that the only humane thing to do was euthanize the calf. Throughout the calf’s life, the zoo’s staff consulted with elephant experts from around the world, including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program.

PETA issued a press release with a link to the inspection reports Thursday.

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