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Pittsburgh's baby elephant stops eating because of teething pain; zoo staff installs feeding tube

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 3:14 p.m.
In this file photo taken in June, the Pittsburgh zoo's newborn elephant calf explored her surroundings.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
In this file photo taken in June, the Pittsburgh zoo's newborn elephant calf explored her surroundings.
The Pittsburgh zoo’s baby elephant underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 23, 2017, to install a feeding tube because the calf stopped eating as a result of teething pain, according to zoo officials. It's shown here in this file photo from June taken short while after its birth.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh zoo’s baby elephant underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 23, 2017, to install a feeding tube because the calf stopped eating as a result of teething pain, according to zoo officials. It's shown here in this file photo from June taken short while after its birth.
In this file photo from early June, the Pittsburgh zoo's newborn elephant calf checked out her surroundings.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
In this file photo from early June, the Pittsburgh zoo's newborn elephant calf checked out her surroundings.

The Pittsburgh zoo's baby elephant underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon to install a feeding tube because the calf stopped eating as a result of teething pain, according to zoo officials.

The baby elephant remained in critical condition after having taken a turn for the worse this week, said Dr. Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

"We're very, very concerned about her," Baker said.

She said the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical in terms of the calf's survival.

The calf was born a month premature on May 31 at Somerset County's International Conservation Center and arrived in Pittsburgh shortly after that.

Because she was premature, Baker said, it already was critical for her to gain weight.

The calf has been teething for about a month. While she had been eating intermittently, Baker said the baby elephant stopped.

"It got to the point Monday where she didn't even want the bottle at all," Baker said. "You would offer it to her, and she would turn her head away."

Baker said the calf has teeth erupting in three places. The teething, itself, is painful, Baker said, and the suction that comes from trying to nurse exacerbates the pain.

Zoo veterinarians have been giving the calf ibuprofen to help ease the pain.

Wednesday's surgery was to insert an esophageal feeding tube to help nourish the calf. The other option was to put a feeding tube into her mouth multiple times a day, which would require veterinarians to immobilize her each time.

"We tried that yesterday (Tuesday). She wouldn't allow that. She didn't like that very much at all," Baker said.

"We're at the point right now where we don't have a lot of options."

Baker said veterinarians spent all morning consulting with experts from across the country. The feeding tube surgery was deemed the best option.

A news release from the zoo earlier Wednesday said experts at Kenya's David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which cares for orphaned elephants in the wild, reported that disinterest in eating is common during teething. They also cautioned that sometimes the calves do not recover.

Baker said there's no prognosis right now as to whether the calf will recover but said, "it's not good right now."

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @meganguzaTrib.

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