City Front: A final trumpet call

A 32-year-old zoo elephant dies after difficult labor.

After battling against the odds for nearly a week, Abigail, one of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo's elephants, died last Friday night as a result of birth complications. As one of the veteran members of the herd, 32-year-old Abigail had been with the zoo for 11 years. "She was a mellow elephant," says chief elephant keeper Ammar Obaidat. "She was very obedient and liked to work with the keepers." Abigail arrived at the zoo from Thailand, where she had spent many years working with foresters. Her skills at moving heavy objects over rough terrain were put to good use at the Jerusalem zoo, and she enjoyed helping keepers set up tree trunks and other large objects in some of the other animal habitats. She was also very fond of company, from both her fellow elephants and her keepers. "If we ever left her alone even for a short while, she would start to call out to us to come back," Obaidat recalls. Abigail went into labor on Saturday night two weeks ago at the end of a 22-month pregnancy, carrying the offspring of Teddy, one of the zoo's most famous elephants. A series of blood tests in the weeks before were able to predict within three days when she was due to give birth, and she began her labor on schedule. Throughout the night the other female elephants in the herd gathered around her in support, a common occurrence among elephants, which form close, caring groups. However, by Sunday morning keepers were aware that something had gone wrong. Elephants are usually in labor for two to eight hours, yet by morning Abigail still had not given birth. She continued her labor pains until Monday morning when the zoo's chief veterinarian, Dr. Nili Avni-Magen, performed an ultrasound scan. The results showed that the now lifeless unborn elephant calf was stuck and posed a threat to the life of its mother. Abigail was small for an elephant, but her calf was too large for her to give birth to. The zoo contacted two elephant experts in Germany, who rushed to Israel for an attempt to extricate the calf. However, such operations are difficult, as it is impossible to perform a full cesarean section on an elephant due to its size and weight. The operation was unsuccessful, and Abigail died last Friday night. She was buried in an allocated burial area at the zoo.