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Elephant died due to 2 birth abnormalities, Saint Louis Zoo says

Avi had issues with his spine and the major vessels connected to his heart, the zoo said in a press release
Credit: Saint Louis Zoo

ST. LOUIS — Two irreversible birth abnormalities led to the death of an Asian elephant at the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo announced the preliminary results of the necropsy Thursday.

The necropsy (animal autopsy) showed the elephant, named Avi, had issues with his spine and the major vessels connected to his heart, the zoo said in a press release.

The zoo’s veterinary pathologist identified a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) as a contributing factor to Avi’s inability to thrive over the first 27 days of his life, despite intensive supportive care. 

Avi died last month.

A PDA is an opening between the two major blood vessels leading from the heart. The opening, called a ductus arteriosus, is a part of fetal development that normally closes around the time of birth, but in Avi’s case, it did not, the zoo said. 

The abnormal blood flow caused by a ductus arteriosus that remains open (or patent) after birth means that some of the blood does not go to the lungs to get proper oxygen levels.

The cause of a PDA is usually unknown in humans or animals affected by it. PDA is uncommon and difficult to diagnose in large animal species. A PDA and the associated abnormal blood flow can manifest as weakness, lethargy and a decreased feeding response, which Avi experienced.

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In addition, Avi had an abnormal spinal conformation that limited his ability to raise his head, and position himself to feed on his own. Although the caretakers provided Avi with supplemental feedings, the severity of these concurrent abnormalities was too much to overcome.

Surgical correction was not an option for an elephant with either of these conditions.

Avi’s mother, Rani, is in good health and is receiving excellent care by the Zoo’s Elephant Care Team of keepers and veterinarians, the zoo said.

"The Zoo wishes to express its sincere thanks to everyone for their support and thoughts," the release said.