St. Louis Zoo elephant passes away following agitation in herd triggered by loose dog

Rani drinks water in an outdoor area in 2017 at the Saint Louis Zoo, in St. Louis, Mo. St. Louis Zoo officials say the female Asian elephant at the St. Louis Zoo died shortly after her herd became agitated from a small dog running loose. Rani (pronou

A female Asian elephant at the St. Louis Zoo died shortly after her herd became agitated from a small dog running loose, zoo officials said.

Rani (pronounced Rahn-ee) died Friday at age 27. The zoo announced her death on Tuesday.

"We are absolutely devastated. We ask for the community’s thoughts and support during this difficult time," zoo Director Michael Macek said in a news release. "Our team of professional animal care experts did everything possible, but we couldn’t save Rani."

A small, unleashed and lost dog was seen running in a non-public area near the Elephant Barn Friday afternoon. Elephant care workers were trying to contain the dog, but an elephant outside the barn became agitated and was moved inside, the zoo said.

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Rani was already inside the barn, eating, and didn't see the dog. But members of the elephant care team "observed Rani become agitated in reaction to the vocalizations from the herd. They saw Rani circle and vocalize, all within a very brief period, before collapsing," the zoo release said.

Attempts to revive the elephant were unsuccessful. The rest of the herd calmed down quickly, the zoo said.

Initial necropsy results showed some preexisting changes in Rani’s heart, but further tests are being conducted and zoo pathologists don’t yet know if those changes played a role in her death.

It wasn't clear how the dog got into the zoo, which sits in the middle of sprawling Forest Park. The zoo allows service animals with certain restrictions, but not pets, a spokeswoman said.

The dog was handed over to a shelter, the zoo said.

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Rani and her mother, Ellie, came to the St. Louis Zoo from another zoo in July 2001. The St. Louis Zoo said the move was recommended by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan. The program seeks to manage the Asian elephant population in North America and maximize their health and genetic diversity.

Ellie is still alive at age 52 and living at the zoo.

Rani was the mother of another elephant at the zoo, 16-year-old Jade. Rani enjoyed playing with her two sisters and was known for her unique squeaking noise when socializing with family — a noise that Jade mimics, said Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, manager of the River's Edge area of the zoo, where the elephants live.

The World Wildlife Fund says Asian elephants are endangered, with fewer than 50,000 in the wild. Habitat loss and poaching are blamed for their plight. It is the largest land mammal on the Asian continent.