The matriarch of Paignton Zoo has died. Female African elephant Duchess collapsed in her house early on Sunday morning. Despite a determined and extended response from her keepers, the in-house vet team and other staff and volunteers, the difficult decision to euthaniase her was taken at lunch-time.
Simon Tonge, Executive Director of Paignton Zoo, was present throughout: “Duchess was found collapsed in her house at 8.00 in the morning. She was lying on her left side – with her good eye to the floor – and unable to stand, which was distressing for her keepers to see.
“When our vet team arrived, Duchess was anaesthetised so they could take a blood sample. They also gave her intravenous fluids. With assistance from members of the Facilities team, keepers turned her over onto her right side in the hope that it might help if she could see better. Unfortunately, upon revival it was clear that the treatment and repositioning had made no difference. At 12.15, with the agreement of vets and keepers, I made the decision to euthanize her.”
A full post-mortem examination will be carried out today. We hope this will tell us more about what happened. The elephant and giraffe house will be closed while this is done.
Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling: “I’d known Duchess since I was a boy visiting Paignton Zoo. I used to see Duchess and Gay in their yard above where the Education Centre is now. I’d known her longer than I’d known my colleagues here. I’d known her longer than I’ve known my wife.”
The matriarch of Paignton Zoo was 49 years old. She was born in 1970 and came to Paignton Zoo in 1977. For many years she lived with female Asian elephant Gay.
Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Rob Rouse said: “When we found her, we put the heating on to make her more comfortable. Off duty keepers arrived to help and Jim Dicks, long-time elephant keeper who was very close to Duchess, was called in.
“Our mammal, vet and facilities teams did Duchess and themselves proud, showing true dedication and care right up until the end. Everyone put their all into trying to save her, but in the end the difficult decision to euthanise her was the only option.
“It will be a difficult time whilst we adjust to losing Duchess in this way. It’s a shock to the whole team, in particular those who worked with her closely and she will be sadly missed, she was a massive part of our zoo family.”
Duchess had showed no signs of illness prior to her collapse, and behaved normally when keepers left the night before.
This in all likelihood marks the end of an era for Paignton Zoo. It’s very unlikely that elephants will ever be seen in Devon again.
Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go towww.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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