Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Runs Elephant Rescue Equipment Drill

January 16, 2018

— Drill at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17; Colorado Springs Fire Department to Partner on Training —

January 16, 2018, Colorado Springs, CO – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will conduct an emergency preparedness drill on Wednesday to train and troubleshoot on important equipment in the Wilgruen Elephant Center. This equipment was used recently to save an elephant’s life, and it is likely to be needed more frequently as our elephant herd ages.

The Wilgruen Elephant Center was built with the Colorado Springs community’s support as part of the Encounter Africa exhibit that opened in 2013. The Zoo’s goal for the exhibit was to serve as a final home for aging female African elephants.

To prepare, the Zoo outfitted the barn with state-of-the-art equipment that would help address the inevitable complications that come with multi-ton animals that need medical assistance. Equipment includes a remote video surveillance system for animal care staff to monitor the elephants, a crane-and-hoist system that can lift a disabled elephant and a care system that provides a safe area for weighing, veterinary care and husbandry training. Outdoor wellness features of the exhibit include an exercise path, built-in enrichment activities, a pool and a spacious vacation yard, where our elephants can take time to roam and explore by themselves.

On Jan. 1, 2018, the specialized crane-and-hoist system in the barn was used to save our 32-year-old elephant’s life. Surveillance video later showed that as Malaika was falling into a deep sleep, one of her legs wobbled. She lost her balance and fell, and she was unable to get back up on her own. Some elephants are able to lie down and get back up with no problem, but Malaika is one of many elephants that don’t ever lie down. If an elephant can’t get up on its own and is down for too long, it can cause stress to its internal organs and can be fatal. Although Zoo staff were able to successfully use the equipment get her back on her feet under emergency protocols, the hoist broke in the process.

“Luckily, the equipment failure came after Malaika was out of immediate danger,” said Bob Chastain, president and CEO of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, who assisted with the rescue. “However, there was a concern that she may not be stable enough and could go back down. We needed to create a ‘Plan B,’ and the Colorado Springs Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue group was willing to assist.”

Together, Zoo staff and the fire department crew were able to craft a plan to assist Malaika, in case she fell again. To everyone’s relief, Malaika has been steady since the fall, and has not needed further assistance. She had no lasting effects from the fall.

Since the incident, all three shifts of the fire department’s Heavy Rescue group have trained at the Zoo to prepare for any future medical emergencies.

Wednesday’s drill will use multiple 2,000-pound sandbags to simulate an elephant that needs assistance. The goal is to train staff on how to use the hoist more effectively and try to prevent equipment failure in the future. CSFD personnel will be on hand to learn about the hoist and hone their ‘Plan B,’ in case Zoo staff needs assistance in the future.

The Zoo’s female elephant herd consists of Malaika (32 years old, 7,800 pounds), Kimba (40 years old, 9,600 pounds), Lucky (39 years old, 7,700 pounds), Jambo (35 years old, 8,400 pounds), Missy (48 years old, 8,200 pounds) and LouLou (35 years old, 6,800 pounds). The median life expectancy for female African elephants in human care is 38.6 years. Missy is the 3rd oldest living elephant in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited organization.

The indoor elephant viewing area will remain open to the public during the drill.

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s ONLY mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 233 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just ten operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations for funding.