Jumbo was so weak that he collapsed under his own weight and broke both his back legs while trying to lift himself free from mud in a special area created for him where he could recover, explained Zoo Manager Pichai Sakunsorn.
“Veterinarians from the Phuket Provincial Office of the Department of Livestock Development (DLD) advised us to keep a close eye on his health because he was becoming weak from an infection. The vets came to check on him and provided him medical treatment, but he was not getting better.
“His condition kept deteriorating, so he we had him taken to the Elephant Hospital in Krabi, where he was admitted on April 17,” he said.
A staffer at the Elephant Hospital Southern Thailand in Krabi, operated by the National Elephant Institute, confirmed to The Phuket News this week that Jumbo died three days later.
The staffer, who declined to be named publicly, confirmed that Jumbo was a legally registered elephant carrying microchip number 122767173A, born on Dec 8, 2015 and originally from Hua Hin.
“He was not able to stand and both his back legs showed swelling, so we had a vet x-ray his legs and found that both legs were broken,” the staffer explained.
Jumbo has now been buried on hospital grounds, the staffer added.
Phuket DLD Chief Manas Thepparuk confirmed that Jumbo was the same elephant that had previously been referred to as both ‘Dodo’ and ‘Ping Pong’. He apologised for the confusion.
Suriya Tanthaweewong, the board director of Phuket Zoo Co Ltd involved with zoo operations, emotional on the phone, also confirmed, “We had only one baby elephant here at the zoo.”
Mr Manas when called by The Phuket News on Tuesday said he was not aware that Jumbo had died.
“I had been told that he was at the Elephant Hospital, and I thought that I would have been informed if Jumbo had died,” he said.
Zoo Manager Mr Pichai, speaking openly about Jumbo, countered plainly, “I did inform the Phuket DLD about Jumbo’s death.”
Now informed, Mr Manas told The Phuket News on Tuesday that his officers would investigate Jumbo’s death and take any legal action deemed necessary.
A veterinarian at the Elephant Hospital involved in providing care for Jumbo explained that in her opinion Jumbo did not die of abuse or neglect.
The vet also discounted elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a type of herpesvirus that can cause a highly fatal hemorrhagic disease when transmitted to young Asian elephants.
An associated National Elephant Institute Elephant Hospital in Lampang had a baby elephant die of EEHV only earlier this month.
“Jumbo did not show any signs of EEHV. He had an infection in his digestive tract that resulted in Jumbo suffering constant diarrhea, which caused other health complications, including the fact that his body was not absorbing nutrients as it should, which made him very weak," the vet explained.
“I believe that the cause of Jumbo’s condition may have resulted from him being born premature. Also, Jumbo liked bananas and other sweet foods. He refused to eat enough fibre-rich food to remain healthy,” she said.
Regarding how Jumbo came to sustain two broken legs, the vet told The Phuket News that the debilitating injuries arose from a “horrible accident”.
“It was the worst,” she said.
“I talked with the mahout who looked after Jumbo. The accident happened on April 13. Jumbo’s front legs became stuck in some mud while he was holding himself up with his back legs on dry ground.
“First, he tried to lift himself out with his back right leg, but the bone was too thin and too brittle, and the stress on it caused it to break.
“So he tried to push himself out of the mud with his back left leg, and that broke, too,” she said.
“They managed to get him out of the mud, but at that stage they did not know his back legs were broken. The zoo vet provided care for him from April 13 to 17, but as the swelling did not subside they brought him here [to the Elephant Hospital],” she said.
“Jumbo arrived here on April 17. He could not stand and was very weak. We discovered that his back legs were broken and provided medical treatment, but on April 19 he ate very little and he passed away at 3am on April 20,” she explained.
Mr Manas confirmed that Phuket Zoo under its permit has the right to keep the elephants it already has and uses to perform dance shows and tricks for tourists.
Phuket Zoo can even acquire a new baby elephant if they choose to, he added.
“That is up to them. They have the right to do so,” Mr Manas said.
Meanwhile, Zoo Manager Mr Pichai, like Mr Suriya, also appeared to be deeply saddened by Jumbo’s passing. “Nobody wants to lose something they love. We did the best we could do to protect him,” he said.
Mr Pichai denied allegations that Jumbo was being treated inappropriately, Questioning why even unscrupulous elephant owners would abuse an elephant to the point of death, Mr Pichai, still emotional, pointed out, “This elephant baby was worth more than B1 million.”
Jumbo became the focus of a media storm earlier this year when animal welfare group Moving Animals launched an online campaign to have Jumbo – who they nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ – removed from the zoo’s care for better protection. The campaign gained international recognition, with stories covered by the UK’s Independent, Daily Mail, Mirror and The Sun, as well as Afton Bladet of Sweden and la Repubblica in Italy. (See stories here and here.)