Oregon Zoo's Tusko dies after suffering from decades-long leg pain – OregonLive.com
Tusko, one of North America’s oldest and largest bull elephants, died Monday at the Oregon Zoo after veterinarians said the animal had suffered enough.
Officials announced the 45-year-old was put to sleep after animal-care staff could no longer help with mobility issues and pain that stemmed from a decades-old, right-rear foot injury. Then within the past week, Tusko developed severe swelling and decreased flexibility on his right front foot, said Tim Storms, zoo veterinarian, in a news release.
“Tusko compensated for the old injury by placing more weight on his other legs,” Storms said. “Instead of 13,000 pounds being distributed evenly over four legs, it was distributed over three, which puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the other limbs. Eventually, that burden reaches a tipping point and becomes too much.”
At one point, Tusko was using his trunk to help support his weight. He was laying down more frequently and slow to get up, officials said.
“It was distressing to watch him trying to walk, and we felt we had run out of treatment options,” Storms said.
Tusko was born in Thailand in 1971 and brought to Miami in the early 1970s. He eventually was sold to the Central Florida Zoo after then-director Jack Hanna acquired the elephant, originally named Sobik. He was named after John Sobik Jr., who financed the purchase.
In 1978, animal trainer and circus performer Rex Williams acquired the elephant and renamed him Tusko. The animal performed for the Circus Vargas during most of the 1980s. Tusko was moved to the Oregon Zoo in 2005 after officials acquired him from a private elephant facility, zoo spokesman Hova Najarian said Tuesday.
“The source of the original injury is unknown,” Najarian said. “He moved around quite a bit before coming here in 2005.”
Animal care staff had been managing Tusko’s pain through the years with ibuprofen for the swelling, Tramedol for the pain and gave him hydrotherapy sessions. Tusko contracted tuberculosis in June 2014, the third Oregon Zoo elephant to catch the disease at the time. Care staff were preparing him for an 18-month treatment regimen, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Tusko, who fathered Samudra and Lily, was given that second name because of the large tusks he once bore. Those tusks were mostly broken off by the time he arrived at the zoo. The remaining left tusk was repeatedly infected, and surgeons removed it after two surgeries in 2007.
“This is a very sad day, especially for all the keepers and animal-care staff who have been close to Tusko through the years,” said Bob Lee, zoo elephant curator. “The 10 years Tusko spent at the Oregon Zoo was the longest period he’d ever stayed in one place. We’re thankful we were able to give him a good home with our elephant family, and on a personal level I’m thankful I got the chance to know him.”
Tusko died just days after The Oregon Zoo opened its $57 million Elephant Lands habitat, a project that took nearly four years for planning and construction and quadrupled the size of the zoo’s previous elephant habitat. The new exhibit covers six acres, of which two-thirds are accessible to the elephants, Lee said last week.
Tusko leaves behind his two offspring and four other elephants at the Oregon Zoo.
“Tusko was extremely intelligent and very gentle with female elephants and the young ones,” Lee said. “They loved spending time with him, and he loved hanging out with the whole herd, which is not always the case with adult male elephants.”
— Tony Hernandez