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Good Question: What happens after zoo animals pass away?

Pat Taney
Updated: November 18, 2019 07:47 AM
Created: November 18, 2019 07:42 AM

This question came from a viewer following the deaths of two animals recently. He wanted to know what happens after an animal dies.

Zoo officials walked us through the process.

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The past month has not been easy for the staff at the Seneca Park Zoo.

"Those two animals, we cared a lot about [them], and we still do," said Dr. Louis Divincenti, Assistant Zoo Director for Animal Care and Conservation. 

Chana, a 37-year-old female African elephant, passed away last month. So did Lou, the oldest hyena in human care.

"They had really impactful lives," Divincenti said.

We found out they also have an impact after death.

"The first thing we do is what's called a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy," said Divincenti.

That's done to determine how the animal died, but their tissues are also used to study much more.

"A lot of animals are different than us, so we learn about them," Divincenti explained. 

"For instance, some animals don't get cancer, so we try to participate in research studies utilizing tissues to understand why that species doesn't get cancer or things like that."

Samples are either studied at the zoo or sent to other labs around the country.

"Depending on who is doing the research. Some might go to a research university in California, [while] some might go to Cornell University or to other places,” said Divincenti. “We want to maximize the use of what we can learn from the animals.”

After the necropsy, the animal's body is picked up. That's not always an easy task, especially an animal the size of an elephant.

"Our county parks department helps us with that. So we do have larger vehicles that we need to transport the larger animals."

The animals are then taken to an off-site location somewhere here in our area, and buried.

"Just to keep it respectful for the animals, we do not disclose that location," Divincenti said. "We don't want it to turn into a curiosity thing where people show up to the burial location."

Any animal death, no matter the size, is tough on zoo staff and the living animals left behind.

"Having that grieving process is really important so depending on the animal we will invite a Grief Counselor and talk with staff and really allow people to have that grieving process," Divincenti said.

A process that's not easy but necessary. Zoo officials find comfort knowing these animals are helping others, even after they pass.

"Sometimes we find out things that we were not expecting and that helps us take care of them better in the future and the species out in the wild." 

This process is followed for every single animal that passes, no matter the size.

Animals as small as tree frogs, for instance, are also studied after they pass. That helps find new information about the species.

If you have a question you'd like answered, send Pat an email, GoodQuestion@whec.com.


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