When Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia opened to visitors Thursday, there was no reason to think staffers would be in crisis mode at the elephant exhibit before the morning was over.
Around 10:30 a.m., as visitors looked on, Penny, one of three African elephants on exhibit at the zoo, stumbled and fell and was unable to get back up, zoo spokeswoman Susan O’Cain said.
The zoo veterinarians and vet technicians knew something was wrong pretty quickly when Penny’s herdmates, Robin and Bell, began calling and trumpeting, said Riverbanks’ director of animal collections and conservation, Ed Diebold.
As zoo staffers descended on the exhibit, Robin and Bell went over to Penny, who struggled several times to get back on her feet, and sniffed her, and stayed with her until zoo staffers moved them into the barn, Diebold said. Later in the day, officials decided to “humanely euthanize” the 37-year-old elephant.
“This was totally unexpected,” O’Cain said.
In December, when another of the zoo’s African elephants, Petunia, was euthanized, she had been suffering from medical conditions. With Penny, however, “she was not being treated for anything, there were no signs, there was nothing out of the ordinary,” O’Cain said.
After Penny fell, zoo staffers moved visitors out of the area and answered questions. The exhibit was closed the rest of the day but will reopen Friday, O’Cain said. A necropsy will be performed to determine what led to her medical crisis.
Penny came to Riverbanks Zoo in 2001.