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Punga the elephant dies at Reid Park Zoo

An 11-year-old elephant died Tuesday at Tucson's zoo, where officials say a "twisted gut" caused Punga to unexpectedly die.

Punga developed a double mesenteric root torsion, which was discovered when Reid Park Zoo staffers noticed the elephant "showing signs of discomfort," officials said.

Although the zoo's animal care team took emergency measures, "unfortunately, with this condition recovery is nearly impossible," zoo veterinarian Alexis Moreno said.

Such torsions are more common in horses than elephants, and the cause remains relatively unknown, Moreno said in a news release from the zoo.

"Because elephants have complex social structures and deep family bonds we wanted to ensure they had an opportunity to grieve as we all do," said Sue Tygielski, interim administrator of the zoo. Staffers allowed the other elephants at the zoo to access Punga's body and process his death.

"Our team is devastated and it makes us feel rather helpless, but there is nothing we could have done differently to change the outcome," Moreno said.

The zoo performed a full necropsy of Punga's body to determine the exact cause of death. Results from the tests are not expected for several weeks, officials said.

Punga was part of a family of elephants who arrived in Tucson from the San Diego Zoo in 2012. Mabu is a mature male; Semba and Lungile are mature females. Punga (son of Mabu and Semba) was born in 2007, and Sundzu (another son of Mabu and Semba) was born in 2010. A baby female elephant, Nandi (daughter of Mabu and Semba), was born in Arizona in 2014.

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Mabu was returned to the San Diego Zoo in 2016 because of his breeding potential, in order to increase the genetic diversity of the herd there.

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1 comment on this story

May 10, 2018, 10:51 am
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Elephants are such wonderful animals - often referred to as gentle giants.  Really great the zoo staff let the heard process Punga’s death. I’ve seen videos of this and it it truly touching.

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Reid Park Zoo