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Ruby the Painting Elephant Dies

November 7, 1998

PHOENIX (AP) _ Ruby the painting pachyderm put down her brushes after she became pregnant and her handlers decided the Phoenix Zoo star should focus instead on raising a healthy calf.

Sadly, the elephant’s pregnancy went fatally awry.

Ruby had to be put to death Friday during a risky surgery to remove a dead, 320-pound fetus from her uterus. Veterinarians discovered that Ruby’s uterine wall had ruptured and caused a deadly infection.

Joe Foerner, a Chicago veterinarian who led the operation, likened the infection to ``a ruptured appendix, only a thousand times.″

The Asian elephant became a media darling in the late 1980s when her keepers noticed she liked to hold a stick in her trunk and doodle in the sand.

They gave her a paintbrush, and her abstract canvas creations raised about $500,000 for the zoo. ``Ruby captured people’s imaginations,″ said Jeff Williamson, executive director of the zoo.

Veterinarians said Ruby’s odds of survival were slim going into the surgery. In all four previous attempts to perform Caesarean sections on Asian elephants worldwide, the mothers died.

One hour into surgery, veterinarians concluded that it was best to euthanize Ruby, Foerner said. The elephant will be buried on the zoo grounds.

Seven veterinarians from around the country performed the surgery in which the 25-year-old, 9,000-pound elephant was placed under general anesthesia and laid on her side on a pile of mattresses and inner tubes.

The full-term fetus had slipped out of the womb and into Ruby’s abdomen, said Dr. Kathy Orr, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. ``It was removed, but the uterus could not be repaired,″ Orr said. ``We could not save her life.″

Ruby became pregnant in 1996 while visiting the Tulsa Zoo, where she was mated with a bull elephant named Sneezy. The Thailand-born Ruby was 11 months pregnant when she returned to Phoenix last fall.

In recent days, she began to show signs of going into labor and veterinarians tried unsuccessfully to induce it. The normal gestation period for Asian elephants is 22 months.

Ruby’s plight sparked an outpouring of concern from the public. Hundreds of zoo visitors showered Ruby’s exhibit with get-well cards and bouquets. Children from local schools painted her pictures and get well messages.

Mattress and tires were donated for her to lay on during the surgery, and hospitals sent medical supplies, from antibiotics to sterilization equipment.

Kathy Lindholm, wearing a T-shirt with one of Ruby’s paintings, brought 5-year-old Chelsie Elliott, who she was babysitting, to the zoo Friday.

``If we don’t take care of them they aren’t going to be around for Chelsie’s generation,″ Lindholm said.

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