Just two weeks after the celebrity polar bear Knut drowned in his tank at age 4, the Berlin Zoo has reported the death of another of its young animals, this time an elephant, age 6.
A zoo spokeswoman, Claudia Bienek, said the Indian elephant, named Shaina Pali, died early Tuesday morning, possibly of an infection, the Associated Press reported. Elephants can live up to about 80 years in captivity.
A necropsy was being performed to determine the exact cause of death, she said, though she added that the two deaths were unrelated.
"It's simply very, very sad," she said.
Knut's death, after he collapsed into the moat in his enclosure, possibly due to swelling of the brain brought on by an infection, spurred an outpouring of grief among his followers. The cub had been hand-reared by zoo keepers after his mother died.
It inspired a Washington Post article exploring the notion of animal welfare in zoos, and detailing the regulations that govern animal-exhibition in the U.S. and elsewhere.
To stay accredited, zoos must participate in wildlife conservation and community education. They also must provide the animals with appropriate stimulation to keep their minds and muscles active — by having them follow a keeper’s commands or let them forage for their food, for instance.
Inspectors also try to evaluate animals’ psychological well-being. Repeated purposeless motions — what zoo professionals call “stereotypic behavior” — are a pretty clear sign of a troubled animal. Stressed polar bears have a tendency to pace, while elephants shift their weight back and forth for minutes at a time.
The article concluded with these user-friendly tips on zoos:
First, you shouldn’t support an unaccredited zoo unless you have investigated its animal care, a task few people can accomplish on a Saturday morning. Second, even if you’re at a good zoo, keep your eyes and ears open for signs of distress and don’t be afraid to ask the docents about what you’re seeing; better zoos will keep their people informed and capable of providing honest answers. Finally, if you can’t stand the sight of an animal staring longingly through a glass pane, you probably should just stay home.