BERLIN – A young elephant died unexpectedly at the Berlin Zoo on Tuesday, two weeks after celebrity polar bear Knut suddenly passed away in front of shocked onlookers.
Six-year-old Indian elephant Shaina Pali was found dead by keepers doing their morning rounds, zoo spokeswoman Claudia Bienek said. Elephants can live up to about 80 years in captivity.
"We all mourn the death of this young and special animal," Bienek said. "It's simply very, very sad."
The zoo's most famous resident, four-year-old polar bear Knut, drowned March 19 at the zoo after collapsing in his enclosure and falling into its moat. Experts said his collapse was caused by a swelling of his brain brought on by an infection.
Bienek said the two deaths are unrelated.
A necropsy of the elephant showed that it most likely died of a herpes infection, but that final results of the blood test were still needed to confirm the cause of death, the zoo's veterinarian Andreas Ochs said.
The Berlin Zoo has already lost two elephants due to herpes infections. In 1998, bull elephant Kiba died and two years later, his offspring, nine-month old bull Kiri also died from the virus.
Ochs said elephants often carry the herpes infection, but that while African elephants are usually unaffected, it can prove fatal to Indian elephants.
The seven elephants that remain at the zoo are now being tested, but Ochs said the probability of another fatality is low.
A post-mortem exam of Knut showed he was suffering from encephalitis, an irritation and swelling of the brain that was likely brought on by an infection, but it remains unclear what kind of infection it was.
Knut was rejected by his mother shortly after his birth in December 2006. He captivated the world's attention after his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed fluffy cub his bottle every two hours.
The bear went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.