Animal rights organization calls for investigation into elephant - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Animal rights organization calls for investigation into elephant death at Safari Park

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The animal rights organization In Defense of Animals is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the circumstances surrounding Thursday's death of a 21-year-old African elephant at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park.

Zookeepers found Umoya, a mother of two brought to San Diego from Swaziland in 2003, lying down in the elephant exhibit shortly before the park opened on Thursday, according to the zoo's Christina Simmons.

No official cause of death has been released. Veterinary staff was conducting a post-mortem examination to discover a cause of death, but results might not be known for weeks, Simmons said.

"There were few injuries that indicated there may have been some sort of aggressive interaction with another elephant," zoo spokesperson Yadira Galindo told the Union-Tribune.

IDA's complaint to the USDA states that an adult male elephant, Mabhulane, who is known to throw his weight around was confined with the females and their offspring.

Zoos typically keep males and females separated because the powerful males can injure the females. In the wild, adult males do not live with the matriarchal family groups, the complaint said.

"This elephant's shocking death is another tragic example of how elephants suffer in inadequate and artificial zoo exhibits," IDA Elephant Campaign Director Catherine Doyle said. "There is nothing natural about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's elephant exhibit or keeping 18 elephants crammed into a space of less than six acres when their natural home ranges can measure hundreds of square miles."

Three elephants have been killed by other elephants in zoos throughout North America since 2001, according to IDA.

IDA is also asking the USDA to investigate why no staff or security personnel were aware of Umoya's fatal injury until trainers arrived in the morning.

Zookeepers allowed the herd to come back in and say their goodbyes after Umpya's death, Simmons said. Umoya leaves behind two calves -- which are 1 1/2 and 4 years old.

"One of the last elephants to leave was the youngest (offspring)," Simmons said.

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