A necropsy is not a requirement of the USDA, but the Sanctuary has always recognized the benefit and has performed the procedure on each of our elephants that has passed away.
Prior to Lota’s passing, our necropsy team consisted of Dr. Scott and all of the staff members who wished to participate. It is a difficult procedure to witness when you have spent so much effort caring for the elephant that has passed. In an effort to make sense of the actual necropsy procedure, which is seriously invasive, our necropsies intertwined ceremony with science, becoming a sacred procedure. The findings were written up and reported by Dr. Scott in a concise and straight-forward style, one that a lay person could easily understand.
Lota’s passing marked the beginning of a new era at the Sanctuary in many ways. She was moved to the Sanctuary specifically because she was dying of tuberculosis. Her necropsy was performed by a team of vets and scientists headed by the US Department of Agriculture. The staff took a back seat in the procedure to ensure the most thorough necropsy possible, resulting in a procedure that was purely science devoid of any ceremony. Admittedly, this was difficult for the staff but all understood the necessity of an intensive, thorough necropsy. The ceremony would follow when the team of scientists was gone.
All subsequent necropsies have been held to the same high standard of science and performed by an impressive team of professionals from the University of Georgia. We are thankful to this team because in addition to their unsurpassed professionalism, talent and thoroughness, they exhibit empathy for the staff’s suffering and respect the need for both elephants and staff alike to grieve. It is a fine line these scientists walk, and they do it expertly.
One of the stipulations made by our necropsy team is that no preliminary report is issued. This ensures that no assumptions are made regarding the cause of death. An official detailed report is issued with the conclusive findings from the indisputable laboratory tests. Many institutions request a preliminary report in order to have immediate answers for the media and the public. We see no reason to ask the team to guess at the cause of death, and instead, respect their desire to let the science speak for itself. The results take several months to compile and provide us with an accurate conclusion regarding cause of death.
Unlike our original necropsy reports which were simply stated, these reports are detailed and written in scientific language. Deciphering the report is best left up to a scientist. We learned the hard way after posting Lota’s necropsy report that the contents of the report can be misunderstood, and if taken out of context can easily be used to misrepresent the truth. As result of the misuse of Lota’s detailed necropsy report, we no longer post the complete reports on our web site, but we will post a summary of cause of death after we have received the detailed professional report.
Summary of Zula's Necropsy
Upon gross evaluation during Zula’s necropsy the focus was drawn to the condition and function of her heart. Just as with Queenie’s necropsy no disease process was found, nor indication that any other organ was problematic, only her heart. Zula’s official necropsy report has not yet been submitted to the Sanctuary from the University of Georgia but all of the information to date suggests that Zula had a pre-existing heart condition which caused her death.
7/1/09: Zula’s necropsy showed gross and histologically detectable changes which support a diagnosis of cardiac pathology in this case. Zula death was caused by acute circulatory collapse and (probably) fatal arrhythmias. There is no gross or (acid fast) histological evidence of mycobacterial (TB) disease in this case.